‘Digital diaspora’


DAVAO CITY—A leading online brand retailer in Asia is seeing a sharp behavioral shift among  consumers and brand makers that may reinvent and innovate approaches, especially from the latter, as data analytics—since the onset of the pandemic—indicate the emergence of more discerning consumers adaptive to electronic, or online, shopping experience.

For one, the Southeast Asia Trender Report 2021 by Zalora shows that 40 million Asians made their debut in Internet use and 70 million have made their first online purchase within the 2020 and 2021 period, many of them attracted and drawn into actual purchase by product sales promotion and discount offerings.

When pandemic curbs were imposed by the first quarter of 2020, sales of products like trendy dresses and fashion wear dropped sharply, and replaced by products relating to health and wellness, personal care and apparel, even sports and accessories.

However, some items that were dropped by consumers for practical reasons of movement restrictions are seeing a revival in sales lately, as a promise of a “less stressed” year of 2022 on Covid-19 infections, are opening avenues to revive the engines of travel, fueling new interest in travel and fashion wear again.

Zalora, a member of the Global Fashion Group, boldly predicted that “the future of retail is virtual,” pointing at the momentum of Asian consumers going online and becoming adaptive and savvy about online shopping.

Shoppers of tomorrow

“THE dawn of a new era of retail is already here in Southeast Asia. As consumers become more discerning and connected, we are seeing incredible innovations happening in the retail sector that completely reimagine the shopping experience,” Gunjan Soni, chief executive officer of the Zalora Group, told an online presentation of its Trender Report 2021.

She described the “shoppers of tomorrow” as “digital and diverse across Southeast Asia.”

Zalora CEO Gunjan Soni: “The dawn of a new era of retail is already here in Southeast Asia. As consumers become more discerning and connected, we are seeing incredible innovations happening in the retail sector that completely reimagine the shopping experience.”

“It’s a digital diaspora,” she said, citing Google trend monitoring that shows 40 million new Internet users came online in 2021, “bringing the internet penetration in Southeast Asia to 75 percent.”

“In fact, eight out of 10 Internet users in the region are digital consumers. Recognizing this shift in adoption, brands quickly expanded their online presence to reach these new digital consumers, and Zalora reported a 19-percent increase in new brands that joined the platform in 2021,” she added.

With more Southeast Asians browsing now and getting themselves more online, the average Asian shopper browses across 7.9 websites before making a decision, up from 5.2 in 2020.

By country countdown, Filipino shoppers spend the highest average number of hours online, at close to 11 hours, “and are most likely to make purchases based on sustainability considerations.” Compare this with their Indonesian counterparts who are most likely to spend on beauty products and sports equipment as a form of leisure, despite a dip in consumer sentiment due to the pandemic.

Malaysia, though, has the highest percentage of digital natives, at 88 percent or 22 million. These are the segment of their population that grew up with the Internet and electronic communication gadgets by their side. Google trend shows Malaysian shoppers spend close to 9 hours online on average, “and are the most likely to be value-driven.”

Singaporean shoppers are most likely to invest in luxury purchases, with Google search data showing a 21-percent year-on-year increase in Singaporeans’ searches for luxury goods.

Data consumption

ZALORA’S venture into data analysis allowed its clients to see more clearly the trend in retail. “Our flagship state-of-the-industry report helps facilitate the industry’s evolution by allowing more brands to understand the changing market and anticipate what the future holds. Our focus continues to be on consumer behaviors vs. market size outlooks and how it is evolving.”

Its latest Trender 2021 Report has outlined key technological shifts in digital payment and consumer experience that come hand in hand with shoppers’ rising digital savviness and taste for luxury and sustainability.

“The report is positioned as a reference point that helps Zalora’s 900 brand partners navigate the region’s diversity and evolving retail landscape,” Zalora’s CEO Gunjan Soni said.

Aside from digital partners like Google, Mastercard, H&M, Lush, Paula’s Choice, HABIB, Atome, Revery.AI, Visenze, BeLive Technology, TaFF, Finix Wear, Joannalsm, Lily and Lou, and  CrescentRating, Zalora also gets its data analysis from the total of 8,000 brands in its fold, the 60 million online visits by shoppers and whose active customers of 4 million helped increase mobile sales by 81 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Brand partners of Zalora would appreciate the other information it obtained such as customers “are 40 percent more likely to spend than planned once they identify the shopping experience as highly personalized.”

This makes virtual sessions helpful for consumers, like live shows of products, with hosts and guests providing more details and giving testimonies, Zalora said.

It would also help brands innovate on flexible sales promotions, such as giving discounts, and offering easier and attractive payment options such as the buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) option, which, it said, emerged as the most popular option among Asian shoppers.

In Indonesia, for example, Google saw a “10x increase in searches for e-wallet services and 15x rise in BNPL services in the last five years. Other appealing payment options like monthly installments, to 0 percent interest fees on credit cards, provide access to quality products and services while also improving financial inclusion.

Zalora, for instance, offers 21 payment methods across the region, including cash-on-delivery and BNPL options across the markets. It launched its first co-branded credit card in partnership with RCBC and Mastercard in the Philippines, the first-ever fashion and lifestyle credit card in the region that rewards customers every time they shop. It is also the Philippines’ first sustainably made credit card as the Zalora Credit Cards will be made with 84 percent bio-sourced polylactic acid derived from non­edible corn.

“With 290 million unbanked people in the region, offering alternative payment methods became a must for online retailers,” Zalora said.

Signs of the times

BRAND partners of Zalora may also look at the data:

• Fragrances dominated the Personal Care category, overtaking face serums and hair care, with a continued increase in the average basket size for beauty products;

• Lockdown shopping: Reflecting the acceleration in the adoption of e-commerce shopping in the region, the average basket size on Zalora across Southeast Asia increased from $77 and 2.18 items pre-Covid, to $85 and 2.37 items during periods of low alert, and further to $96 and 2.70 items during periods of high alert;

• Consumers are investing more in casual wear and focusing on their fitness as demand for dressier pieces went down; both men and women across the region have spent more on sportswear compared to other product categories;

• As consumers start planning their social calendars, forgotten categories are seeing a rebound. For example, when Singapore announced its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) pilot with Germany, the search terms for winter wear increased by 275 percent, and searches for thermal clothing rose by 325 percent;

• Muslim consumers in the Philippines notched the highest increase in online searches, at 38 percent compared to 2020 level. This is more than double the next country with more Muslim population, Malaysia, with an increase of 15 percent in Google search for products. They search mostly for Halal goods, and mainly on dresses and accessories, such as traditional tops, dresses, tudungs and head scarves, batik cloth and prayer headgear.

And men are becoming vain, too. Beauty product sales among male consumers jumped 247 percent in 2020, from 2019 and went 45 percent more this year. “No wonder then that the global male grooming market is expected to be worth $166 billion by 2022,” Zalora said, citing a report by the Allied Market Research, which further  reported that the Asia-Pacific region is one of the fastest-growing regions for men’s makeup and grooming category. As this trend grows, Zalora added, “the men’s cosmetics industry in Southeast Asia is forecast to grow by an average of 8.6 percent a year from 2020 to 2026.”

Bold prediction

THE future of retail is virtual.

This bold prediction by Zalora comes from its data analysis that current government warnings on health protocol and other “augmented reality features are no longer a bonus but an expected prerequisite for online retailers.”

“At a time where social distancing is still common, the [various electronic shopping and payment] technology is highly sought after,” Soni said.

“Similarly, fashion retail has undergone what some may call an accelerated trial by fire in recent months. The Great Retail Reckoning of 2020 has seen e-commerce grow by leaps and bounds amid rapid digitization of businesses worldwide. And brands are rightfully investing more than ever to thrive in this new ecosystem. This marks the new era in retail as both consumers and brands are looking at the near future with a more optimistic lens,” Zalora said.

Images courtesy of Nmedia | Dreamstime.com and Bang Oland | Dreamstime.com

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