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What marketers can learn from Southeast Asian mobile commerce

October 11, 2011

By David Eads

I just returned from two weeks discussing strategy with mobile commerce executives across Southeast Asia. Despite having spent considerable time in North America, Latin America and Europe, this was my first trip to the region. I found the similarities and differences intriguing.

In North America and Europe, executives I meet often mentally write-off Asia as so foreign and different that their experiences are not relevant. Perhaps this is true for South Korea and Japan, which have very specialized market.

However, in Southeast Asia, there continue to be far more similarities than differences.

Asian tappers
For example, everyone is struggling with mobile adoption growth.

Mobile is happening – and it is happening fast – but it is still around 2 percent to 4 percent of online.

Everyone wants it to grow faster, while struggling to support what they have. Many companies simply turn mobile on and customers show up with little or no promotion.

Similarly, travel and financial services lead the way.

These verticals have higher adoption and the most mature solutions in each region around the world.

Many of these companies are on their second or third major version of their mobile offering. Retail mobile commerce is poised for explosive growth when retailers fully commit to the mobile medium.

Southeast Asia has had mobile offerings longer than North America, in particular.

Asians have also more consistently supported feature phones and SMS than Americans and Canadians, since they have large populations of both rich and poor.

The result is that Asian executives confirm an important trend we have been seeing from our perspective in the industry: visits increase permanently when you add mobile channels.

Furthermore, with complete coverage, visits split evenly between mobile Web and native applications.

Many U.S. and European companies are still wrestling with whether to support transactions on mobile Web or native apps. The data very clearly shows the answer must be both.

North American banks – and, apparently, Southeast Asia – have moved on and are finding ways to innovate and compete across all channels.

All channels are not equal, however.

Channeling focus
The Asian executives see similar transaction conversion rate differences to what we see across channels most prominently in North America.

In particular, we see iPhone native apps having 30 percent higher conversion rates than other channels, including Android native apps and mobile Web. We expect this behavior to change over time as devices change and users – and companies – are more experienced with mobile.

The Asian executives confirmed that they have seen these patterns change over the years they have been live with mobile.

Therefore, analytics support and the agility to react to changes are absolutely critical for continued success. Today’s mobile strategy is not likely to be next year’s strategy.

Of course, Asian economies are seeing much stronger growth than the United States and Europe, which are mired in sovereign debt crises and fears of a continuing of the Great Recession.

Asian companies are planning their second and third acts with mobile.

Instead of considering new channels or new features, many Asian companies are planning major new lifestyle functionality around loyalty and rewards.

Furthermore, around the world, enterprise mobility and mobile commerce are meeting to create new, more strategic employee-facing apps that solve new problems using the devices that employees choose while still securing company data and streamlining processes.

It is clearer than ever to me that mobile is driving innovation through all its incarnations and across every channel of the business from bricks-and-mortar, online and beyond.

David Eads is vice president of product marketing at Kony Solutions, Atlanta. Reach him at

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