E-commerce players have to rethink the way they engage today’s consumers, who expect a hyper-personalized end-to-end customer experience.

A few years ago, the ability to deliver personalized and reliable content might have given a company an edge over its competitors. Today, the concept of personalization is no longer new and is in fact, already a customer expectation—embedded in every touch point from the content itself to the way that content is served to the consumer. This is especially pertinent for e-commerce players, who must not only curate from the abundance of items in its inventory and serve hyper-personalized, hyper-relevant content to the customers, but also ensure that they are kept engaged enough to stick around and make a difference. 

Yet, in the crowded e-commerce space, focusing solely on capturing the attention and loyalty of both online and offline consumers is inadequate. Delivering a solid and consistent end-to-end customer experience pre- and post-purchase is non-negligible. 

Convenience, speed, reliability

It sounds like a no-brainer, but the delivery of these expectations is no easy feat. Today’s consumers are fluid in their purchasing habits. If an item is too expensive or not available, or if the e-tailer failed to respond to their needs, consumers simply move on and shop somewhere else. Does the vendor offer a variety of payment options that customers prefer? How long does it take for an order to be delivered to the customer’s choice-of-location? Are the return options flexible? Are the loading speeds of images on the mobile app or site fast enough to keep the customer engaged? Consumer expectations of e-tailers will continue to rise as the way people shop continues to change. 

Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to catering to different consumer behavior, operating in a market that brings about its own set of challenges seems to only make riding on the digital bandwagon even trickier. As a region that is home to about 280 million Gen Z consumers who are digital natives, Southeast Asia is a market to watch with its booming digital economy and immense e-commerce opportunities. However, varying levels of maturity in terms of physical and connectivity infrastructure, regulations and policies as well as skill sets have also added depth to the challenge for brands wanting to attract and retain customers.  

Identify the right technology partners 

The good thing is that these hurdles are not insurmountable. The key to addressing them is to have a good grasp of the market conditions and recognize any constraints. Often, identifying the right partner could prove to be more effective than investing heaps of resources in a bid to make sense of the challenges. Not only are local companies able to recognize and tackle challenges more effectively, they also have their own network of partners that could in effect surprise with new opportunities. In turn, the time and resources saved could be better spent on deepening and building out capabilities in-house.

For instance, one of the massive projects we delivered last year was the ‘Visual Search’ feature on our mobile app. While we could have tried to develop the technology in-house, the decision to work with a partner that had expertise in visual recognition enabled us to focus on optimizing our search function and refining the tags of our products.

Similarly, when it comes to delivering relevant content efficiently, partnering content-delivery networks that are capable of localizing and hosting content helps to ensure that the e-tailer responds to the nuances and preferences of each market across Southeast Asia.

Experiment, fail, start over

In a digital landscape that is always evolving, being experimental and bold is strategic, while stagnation and conformity can be dangerous. It is useful to start with big, broad ideas before funneling down and arriving at a plan that is realistic, achievable and in line with the company’s priorities. In recent years, Southeast Asia has evolved tremendously and established for itself a reputation of a thriving startup destination, earning investor confidence. Experimenting with startups enables companies to approach a problem with fresh perspectives, while being at the forefront of innovation.

2020 and beyond

The consumer today is constantly exposed to high quality content accessible from platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. This is going to continue to influence e-commerce and fashion in many ways as people quickly gain experience in creating great content themselves. Consequently, e-commerce players will be forced to rethink the way they reach out to and engage the consumer, who expects nothing less than a hyper-personalized end-to-end customer experience.