A new report by Bain & Co. showed the Philippines has the highest growth potential in online retail sales within Southeast Asia, a region set to earn from online selling as much as $20 billion by 2020.


Despite e-commerce’s bright prospects in the region, companies are still having trouble bringing in the crowds online.


Digital media connectivity in Southeast Asia now rivaled that of China, with 250 million consumers already using smartphones and 100 million engaging in online transactions. However, online retail in the region only accounted to $6 billion, with online sales below 4 percent of total retail well behind developed markets and even other developing markets.


The report said the biggest hurdle for e-commerce success in the region is the highly fragmented nature of the region with regulations, infrastructure, and customer preferences making it difficult to establish a presence and build scale, particularly for foreign-owned businesses.


Significant growth for e-commerce


The growth of the Southeast Asian e-commerce market is slow but significant, particularly when you consider that it started from a very small base in 2012 and has doubled every year since, said Sebastien Lamy, a Bain partner, and co-author of the report.


Florian Hoppe, Bain partner and another co-author of the report, said the research is a ‘last chance’ warning for Southeast Asian companies. “We had a front-row seat to watch the digital disruption unfold in other markets, first the US and Europe, followed by China and India. With a few regional differences, we know how it will play out here, too, but companies are running out of time to act if they want to stay ahead of consumer preferences and beat the competition.”


If local companies want to take full advantage of the online retail potential of the country, they need to put in place fundamental changes to their digital marketing strategies. Here are a few suggestions that are bound to make an impact.


Invest in quality content


According to Bain’s survey, 80 percent of consumers used social media and over-the-top content to research about products or connect with sellers. Today, consumers consult various blogs and online reviews before making a purchase. Companies are investing a lot of money for SEO marketing to appear at the top of page one of search results pages. They recognize that users do their research online and companies are fighting to be the first when these people are already in the purchasing mood.


But more than being present online, companies must make the move to invest in quality content. This includes keeping in place an effective content marketing strategy. Going the inbound route seems only to be logical as more consumers prefer value-laden content. Some companies are starting to recognize this need as shown on 10 Most Common Content Marketing Questions: Real-World Insights for Enterprise Marketers study where 37% of B2C companies surveyed already have a documented content marketing strategy with a clear vision of content marketing success.


SM is one of the brands who are already getting into content production. It now publishes its own fashion and style blog and produces how-to videos on social media.


Stumped for ideas on content? For e-commerce businesses, How Content Marketing Builds Your Ecommerce Business, Shopify suggests producing how-to videos especially if you’re selling a niche product. Photo-heavy content is also a good idea so make sure to churn out well-photographed and well-designed photos.


Provide the best user experience


Of more than 6,000 Southeast Asian consumers surveyed for the report, over 60% cited both experience and choice as a driver of loyalty. Customer experience doesn’t only involve delivery of products and convenient payment methods; it also goes as far as how your audience interacts with your digital persona ‚from your website to your blog, down to your social media accounts.


This involves making your website responsive across all platforms since consumers remain platform agnostic, doing research and purchases through desktop and mobile phones, with more users preferring the latter. If you want to dig more into user experience, Envato came up with this article on how you can find out if your design is leading to your desired action for users on your website.


Think mobile first, mobile best


Zalora offers a seamless user-experience from its desktop site down to its mobile site and app.


In another 72% of Consumers Expect Brands to Have Mobile-Friendly Sites Google Study, it showed that 67% of consumers are more likely to buy on mobile-optimized sites. Meanwhile, 40% turn to the competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience. This means that your design can make or break your online sales.


Need help? Google’s webmaster tool can help you assess if your website is mobile-friendly. After an assessment, it also provides a guide on how to optimize your site for the mobile audience.


Still not convinced in going mobile? 50% of purchase-related conversions happen within an hour of the mobile searches that initiated them.


Use social media to gain insights from your audience


Despite social media’s success in driving traffic and sales, retailers are still slow in joining the move to tap a highly engaged social media audience. According to We Are Social’s Digital Report, as of January 2015, the Philippines leads in average ‚Time Spent on the Internet‚ through laptop and desktop, and one of the highest via mobile worldwide. From a global average of 4.4 hours/day, Filipinos spend an average of 6.3 hours/day online via laptop and 3.3 hours/day via mobile. On top of this, over 40 million Filipinos are actively engaged in social media, leading to the Huffington Post to consider the Philippines to be a digital lifestyle capital in the making.


Social media is an excellent platform to mine user data. User behavior in social media is a good indicator of user life stages and interest, helping companies and marketers get a better sense of what people may or may not be interested in buying and targeting them at the precise moment in their life where they are ready to make a purchase.


A good social media strategy doesn’t mean creating social media accounts for your brand and repurposing your marketing collaterals by uploading them online. Instead, this will involve investing in the right material, targeting the right audience, and implementing the right strategy.


Are you implementing these strategies for your business? Let us know in the comments section below if you have more ideas on moving your business forward in today’s mobile, digital space. Keep in mind that it will take time and commitment before you reap the benefits for your business so it’s best to start now.