Looking at ASEAN’s current $15 billion online retail sales and 19% YOY growth, the region’s ecommerce potential will continue to rise for the years to come.

Source: aCommerce Data & Research

Aside from the eCommerce opportunity in ASEAN, there are some market characteristics that professionals should be aware of before setting up own eCommerce operations. Understanding these characteristics and obstacles will define the success of future business endeavors.

So how can companies get started and set up a successful eCommerce business? What are the areas to look into before entering eCommerce?

Following this checklist will hopefully help ask the right questions and trigger appropriate initiatives:

Let’s take a closer look at the fundamentals.

The Business Plan

It’s obviously important to have a strong business plan that outlines the strategy, markets, budgets, revenue targets, buy or build decisions.

Without a proper business plan, companies will struggle with convincing internal or external stakeholders to buy in on the ecommerce plans.

I previously worked with a brand who stated they wanted to achieve 20% of their overall sales via ecommerce channels by 2020.

This is definitely a challenging goal considering that the ecommerce market average in ASEAN makes up only 1% for retail but still plausible as a vision supported by a growth strategy.

If the internal expertise lacks the knowledge to develop a business plan, there is always the option to work with the usual consulting companies.

But rather than going down this pricey path, keep in mind that an end to end ecommerce service provider has the capability to consult and perform all the legwork.

If you intend to draft the business plan by yourself, plan ample time to conduct market research before making decisions.

The People

One of the most overlooked items when venturing into ecommerce is how to attract and keep the right people. Many companies will either use existing staff to run the online division or worse, add an additional workload on top of the current staff’s responsibilities.

Going into the ecommerce business isn’t a light endeavor and requires focus so a company’s first steps need to be strong. If you plan on using existing resources,  there is a risk of upset employees wanting to leave.

Ecommerce is still fairly new in ASEAN so there is an overall lack of ecommerce experience in the market. This has led to inflated salaries and job titles so it isn’t seldom to find Vice Presidents and Directors with only a couple of years of experience and well under 30.

A CEO commented once that he doesn’t mind offering big titles to attract young people. I agree to a certain extent but at some stage, these VPs, Heads and Directors will compare themselves to their counterparts in the B2B world and ask for more compensation.

In the traditional B2B environment, titles take much longer to earn, which explains why the average age of a Director is usually 10 years greater to his counterpart in a “new age” company.  But be aware that the experience is much different. I don’t know how many times I interviewed Account Directors and Managers who didn’t know the difference between Revenue, Gross Margin and EBIT. Don’t assume certain titles equate to in-depth knowledge of certain areas.

The ecommerce talent pool is primarily made up of Millennials – “a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century” according to Google. They grew up in a socially-connected and fast-paced environment and it’s evident in their CVs. Millennials hardly stay with a company for over one year.

Workplace satisfaction means having a cool job, flat hierarchies and a work-life balance. The following link provides some interesting views on Millennials:

So integrating these types of candidates with your current workforce may be a challenge. There is obviously not a one size fits all answer but first decide whether it’s possible to groom in-house rather than hire.

The Sales Channels

Do you have a great product you would like to sell online? Great, now the question is which sales channel will you use?

If you have an easily recognizable brand, you may consider selling only via a brand.com website. The obvious advantages are that you don’t need to pay a marketplace fee, you have complete control over the look and feel and the consumer data is yours to further optimize your brand experience.

Now, will the traffic on your website convert to significant GMV? In many cases, brands decide to have multiple sales channels that range from popular chatting apps, marketplaces, deal and price comparison sites, social networks, etc. to increase online sales. But companies have limited budgets and need to optimize marketing spend.

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