Women can add more than $370b to South-east Asia's e-commerce market: Report

Women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in South-east Asia. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - South-east Asia's e-commerce market could grow by more than US$280 billion (S$370.8 billion) between 2025 and 2030 by increasing the number of female vendors on online platforms and providing them with better training and financial support.

According to a report issued by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in South-east Asia. That being said, they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments.

If the status quo remains, the value of South-east Asia's e-commerce market is expected to reach US$491 billion in 2030. Women's sales have been more severely impacted by the pandemic than those of men, said the report.

"However, if women's gross merchandise value were to reach parity with men in 2025, then US$280 billion of additional market value would accrue between 2025 and 2030. In other words, for every year that gender gaps remain unaddressed, the sector loses over US$46 billion of potential value."

In the Philippines, for instance, the sales numbers of women-owned businesses had been higher than those of their male counterparts, but, due to Covid-19, fell to just 79 per cent of those of men.

"In South-east Asia, e-commerce became a lifeline for individuals' daily essentials as well as a natural business strategy pivot for vendors and brands when offline operations were affected by Covid-19 safety measures," said Mr Chun Li, chief executive of Lazada Group and Lazada Indonesia.

On the Lazada platform, about a third of businesses in Indonesia and two-thirds of businesses in the Philippines are owned by women.

While this study focuses on e-commerce sellers, emerging evidence shows that targeting female customers will also be key to growth. New sex-disaggregated data from the Kantar Covid-19 Barometer Survey shows that the pandemic led customers to shop more on e-commerce platforms and that women were more likely than men to have discovered a new online store where they will continue to shop after the pandemic, stated the IFC report, noting that female vendors may be able to better reach new women customers.

It also added that platforms are well-positioned to support female entrepreneurs. Selected actions include ensuring that these entrepreneurs are aware of and can access emerging fintech offerings; building on early training successes by adding more materials and expanding outreach; and incentivising female vendors to use paid platform features such as product advertisements and to participate in high-value segments.

The report, titled Women And E-commerce In South-east Asia, leveraged data from Lazada, as well as from surveys of vendors in Indonesia and the Philippines. It is the first large-scale use of platform data in the region to inform the extent of women's participation in e-commerce and how online platforms can benefit women business owners.

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission. The IFC is a sister organisation of the World Bank and member of the World Bank Group.

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