What We Can Learn when Expanding your Store into SEA

Benedict Leong

5 Tips for expanding your Australian Fashion eCommerce Store in Southeast Asia

Expanding your Australian Fashion eCommerce store to Southeast Asia

With its proximity to Australia, Southeast Asia is probably one of the regions you’re thinking of expanding your Australian eCommerce store internationally to. This is an attractive market for Australian businesses, with fashion labels down under enjoying high brand equity. In the Philippines, for example, the “Made in Australia” label is associated with safe and high-quality goods.

Examples of popular Australian fashion brands in the Southeast Asian market include:

 

  • Fast fashion – Ever New, Cotton On Group brands such as Cotton On, Cotton On Kids, and Factorie
  • Activewear and water sports – Quiksilver, Roxy, Rip Curl, and Billabong
  • High-end – C/MEO Collective, Finders Keepers, Keepsake, and The Fifth Label—all of which are run by Adelaide-based Australian Fashion Labels
  • Footwear – Holster

 

The Cotton On Group is especially popular in the region. Across Asia, the brand has more than 200 stores, 74 of which are in Singapore alone.

Footwear brand Holster is present across the region but is especially a hit in Thailand, where it has 25 branded stores. In an interview published on RagTrader, the brand noted that some of its jelly shoes actually fit university uniform requirements and office dress codes.

Meanwhile, sporting and athleisure brands like Quiksilver, Roxy, and Rip Curl are the go-to names for water activities, a reputation they maintain by regularly sponsoring events such as the Quiksilver Uluwatu Challenge and the Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang, both located in Indonesia.

While having these household names in your core catalogue can attract consumers in Southeast Asia, you can also view them as an inspiration to guide you in choosing fashion items to sell to consumers in the region.

Why Southeast Asian consumers have an affinity for Australian fashion

In one of Nikkei Asian Review’s articles, Vogue editor-in-chief Edwina McCann mentions “Zimmermann would probably be [Australia’s] most successful designer on a global scale … I think a lot of people not only want to invest in their beautiful designs but also in the Australia lifestyle that Zimmermann has managed to capture and represent so well.”

Meanwhile, a Sydney Morning Herald story on Australian fashion designers notes that Australian fashion is highly influenced by the country’s climate and relaxed way of life. This relaxed and outdoorsy vibe also matches the lifestyles of consumers in Southeast Asia, especially in island/archipelagic nations like the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, which enjoy year-round summerlike weather.

In fact, in explaining why it decided to enter the Asian market more than 10 years ago, Cotton On cited the region’s similarities in climate to Australia, as well as a “love of basics along with fashionability”.

Cotton On and Australian fashion brands enjoy high visibility on eCommerce sites like Zalora, which is one of Southeast Asia’s leading fashion eCommerce platforms.

Images’ source: Zalora

These eCommerce sites and other e-marketplaces present the best opportunity for your business to make its first foray into Southeast Asia. And given the region’s openness to Australian fashion, there’s a real opportunity for you to attract online consumers in this part of the world.

 

eCommerce tips for Australian fashion sellers going into Southeast Asia

1. Getting the Basics Right for Each Country

The top Australian brands selling their products online follow a number of best practices. If you’re running your own brand.com, it’ll be good to see if you’re meeting similar standards.

These include having accurate and up-to-date descriptions tailored for specific Southeast Asian consumers. For example, you’ll want to provide size options or size conversion charts for tops, bottoms, outerwear, dresses, and footwear, as different countries in Southeast Asia follow different sizing systems. Singapore, for one, follows UK shoe sizes by default, while the Philippines follows the US system.

Check out Factorie’s Zalora flagship store, which offers size options in both International and Australian systems.

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It’s also important for all of your products to have high-quality images that provide different views of the item. Take a cue from Forever New’s official store on Zalora. Apart from providing product details, they also offer information that’s likely to entice shoppers to add the item to the cart. For instance, they show that the product is eligible for free shipping.

Forever New's store at ZaloraImage source

When selling on e-marketplaces like Lazada, be sure to take advantage of product attributes, such as colour, size, functionality, and features, when creating new SKUs. Ensuring that each of your products has complete and accurate attributes would improve its product visibility. It also allows shoppers to find your products when filtering by category.

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On Zalora, shoppers can also filter by location and express shipping availability. 

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Finally, focus on clothing and apparel with broad appeal, instead of strictly seasonal items. For example, in a region that mostly experiences warm weather the whole year, cool weather or winter outfits may not sell as well as summer/resort wear.

To help shoppers browse through your catalogue or find specific clothing items, you can recommend visually similar items to the products clicked by a user or added to their cart.

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When you scroll down a product page on Cotton On, for example, you’ll see recommended items based on the clothes you’re viewing. These items typically have similar product attributes to the product featured on the page.

2. Understand how culture influences fashion

Southeast Asia is composed of 11 countries, each one home to consumers with distinct style preferences.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, for example, modest fashion, which refers to clothing that conceals instead of accentuates the body, is thriving. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia) reports that global spending in this market is expected to reach US$368 billion by 2021, up by 7.2 per cent since 2015.

In Southeast Asia, young Muslim women, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, are driving demand for modest fashion. This has given rise to the term “hijabista”—after the hijab, the traditional head covering worn in public by Muslim women. This is one market niche you could consider, as they also have the highest engagement rates on social media in the modest fashion sector, according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

You can also maximise your sales efforts by promoting your fashion offerings during major holidays and shopping events, which typically generate higher eCommerce sales. For example, online sellers across the region actively participate in Singles Day or 11/11. Shopee and Lazada, the region’s two largest eCommerce platforms, have also popularised other shopping events like 9/9, 10/10, and their respective anniversaries

Finally, along with major holidays like Christmas, New Year, Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), and Chinese New Year, be sure to take note of each Southeast Asian country’s own set of holidays and shopping events.

Here are guides to different countries’ major online shopping events:

3. Leverage social media

With Southeast Asia’s social media penetration of 78 per cent (as reported by We Are Social), consumers in this region obviously have an affinity for social media sites.

To sell to this audience, you will have to be visible on the social media pillars that are Facebook and Instagram. However, you should also consider that different countries could favour social media networks beyond these two. For example, data from Statista shows that in Indonesia, YouTube is the most popular social media platform. The popularity of YouTube content also makes it a good idea to provide branded content in the local language to these consumers to make your offerings more approachable.

It’s also a good idea to partner with micro-influencers in Southeast Asia. According to research by Affable.ai, Southeast Asia, with its 1.5 billion social media users, is a key market for micro-influencers, who generate an ROI of US6.50 for every US$1.00 spent. The countries with the most number of micro-influencers are Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia—consider working with micro-influencers if you want to win in these markets.

Merchants in this region use social media not just as a place to communicate with customers, but also to sell directly to them. According to a PayPal survey, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia take the lead in social commerce, with 95 per cent, 87 per cent, and 80 per cent of merchants in these countries, respectively, using social media platforms and messengers to sell to customers.

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Facebook and Facebook Messenger are the platforms of choice for social selling, but you should also look at other social channels, especially messaging apps that are popular in specific countries. For example, in Thailand, 92% of connected consumers use Japanese messaging app LINE. In Singapore, WhatsApp is the top messaging app, followed by Messenger, Telegram, and WeChat. In the Philippines, Facebook Messenger is king.

The popularity of these messaging channels underscores the power of conversational commerce—the use of real-time communications (e.g. live chatting) for customer service. It delivers a level of personalisation to the customer experience, something 22 percent of consumers are dissatisfied with, according to eMarketer.

Apart from having a social media presence, you can also integrate your social feed into your website, if you plan to have one. That’s what The Fifth Label, a high-end streetwear brand, does with its Instagram account:

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That way, you can offer consumers a multi-channel experience. You’ll also be able to cater to shoppers who prefer to make purchases through a website, as well as those who’d rather transact through social media.

4. Focus on popular online advertising channels

Instead of spreading yourself too thin running campaigns on multiple ad channels at the same time, you can focus your ad spend on the channels that yield the best results.

For example, in Thailand, Facebook and Google are the top two channels where Thais discover offerings on Lazada and Shopee.

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A survey by Facebook shows that in the Philippines, 76 per cent of people who use Facebook and Instagram Stories said this type of content “is a great way to get to know new products or services”. On top of that, 61 per cent said Stories have led them to make more online purchases.

In Indonesia, consumers follow a complex path to purchases. But in most cases, it begins with a Google search. According to Austrade, “clothing” is the second most searched product category by Indonesian consumers.

 

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In markets where consumers rely on search for discovery, consider focusing your marketing budget on search engine optimisation and paid search marketing.

5. Identify e-marketplaces carrying Australian brands

Even if you’re not planning on listing your products on these websites, you can use these as a gauge as to which Southeast Asian country you can expand your brand.com to next. But if you are planning on listing, you can expedite the process of reaching out to Southeast Asian consumers by selling on popular marketplaces.

You should also watch out for other local e-marketplaces like Indonesia’s JD.ID and Bukalapak, which recently launched BukaGlobal. For now, BukaGlobal is only availalble to sellers in Indonesia, but if the company intends on expanding Its reach like competitors Lazada and Shopee have, it may soon open the platform to international sellers in Southeast Asia and Australia.

 

Preparing for logistical challenges of cross-border selling

There are a number of factors to consider when selling fashion goods in Southeast Asia.

First, the good news: fashion products that originate from Australia enjoy zero tariffs due to the ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA). However, you still have to consider the specific technical regulations of each country. It’s here where a logistics partner in the region can mitigate the challenge of market fragmentation, guiding you through the trade minutiae of each country.

Fulfilment is another important aspect of online selling, one that’s tied directly to customer satisfaction. With Lazada being the premier e-marketplace for Australian brands, it helps to brush up on the platform’s Supplier’s Code of Conduct and guidelines for fulfillment.

Lastly, a cross-border fulfilment partner or last-mile carrier will also prove critical to getting your products delivered at the earliest—a task easier said than done in a region with high geographical diversity and varying levels of logistics infrastructure.

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