Online shoppers could soon hit 2025 forecast

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital consumption in South-east Asia so much that the number of online shoppers may soon hit targets that experts had forecast would be reached only in 2025.

A study by Facebook and consulting firm Bain & Company released on Thursday said the number of South-east Asian digital consumers - those who purchase goods or services online - is expected to reach 310 million by the end of this year.

The same companies had in a report last year forecast that number to be reached in 2025.

Ms Sandhya Devanathan, Facebook's managing director of gaming for Asia-Pacific, said: "With five years of digital acceleration condensed into one, the impact of digital adoption on businesses has never been more apparent.

"A lot of what has happened has been helped by the unfortunate pandemic, but there has been an exponential growth in the region nonetheless."

The move to shop online has mostly been spurred by the increasing need for people to stay at home to work, study, play and carry out essential tasks to stem the transmission of Covid-19, the study found.

The report, which was released on Facebook, said: "Social distancing has paved the way to the home-centric lifestyles as well as commerce with minimal physical contact. For many businesses, the only way to secure their future is to establish a robust digital presence."

Mr Praneeth Yendamuri, partner at Bain & Company, said: "2020 has truly been a year of accelerated change."

Conducted online in May, the latest iteration of the study involved a survey of 16,491 respondents along with interviews with over 20 company executives from various industries across six South-east Asian nations - Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The study found that South-east Asian consumers were shopping online across more categories, including clothing, toys, groceries or household appliances, among other items.

Last year, each South-east Asian consumer went online to purchase items from an average of 3.7 categories.

This year, the number of categories grew to 5.1, an increase of 40 per cent.

Most notably, the pandemic spurred shoppers to go online for groceries more than ever before.

Prior to the pandemic, this category had the least online retail penetration, but the report showed that around 43 per cent of digital consumers said that they bought packaged groceries online this year.

The majority of first-time online purchases made between March and May this year were also found to be groceries. The growth in the average amount spent per online transaction in the grocery category doubled from last year.

First-time online purchases were dominated by items such as home furniture and consumer electronics in the three-month period before March.

Shoppers in the region are spending more money online overall.

By 2025, the study said, digital consumers will spend, on average, 3.5 times more than they did in 2018 - outperforming the 3.2 times increase that was forecast last year.

Per person, the average monetary value of goods or services purchased online was projected to reach US$429 (S$588) by 2025, up from the US$124 spent in 2018.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2020, with the headline Online shoppers could soon hit 2025 forecast. Subscribe