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A Guide to the Singapore E-commerce Ecosystem: Insights for Getting Ahead

April 20, 2020

Singapore’s e-commerce landscape is dynamic and exciting. 

The numbers are telling: state-owned investment arm Temasek Holdings and Google predict that the local e-commerce market will grow from US$ 2.0 billion in 2018 to US$ 7 billion in 2025. And despite its small population, the average Singaporean consumer spent more than US$1,000 each on online purchases of consumer goods in 2018. This is substantially ahead of the global average of US$634.

For e-commerce aspirants looking to make a foray into the Singapore market, these data points indicate a promising opportunity. 

  • An overview of Singapore’s e-commerce landscape (plus essential statistics you need to know)
  • Leading e-commerce players in Singapore
  • Tips and strategies e-commerce aspirants can implement

Overview of Singapore’s e-commerce landscape

There are several key factors that give rise to Singapore’s flourishing e-commerce landscape. The country boasts of a high-speed ICT infrastructure, a burgeoning digital economy, robust IP regulation and business-friendly policies that make it easy for companies to set up. 

As a major transcontinental port, Singapore’s strategic geographical location creates an environment where e-commerce players can thrive, as it’s ideal as a jumping-off point for companies looking to expand further into other markets in Asia. Additionally, Singaporeans are keen users of e-commerce services; according to DataReportal, nearly 5 million people in Singapore—or 85% of the total population—use the internet today. 

Additional insights

Top e-commerce product categories

  • Consumer electronics:. Revenue for the consumer electronics and media sector amounted to US$1.9 billion in 2020, 
  • Fashion and beauty: Revenue for the fashion and beauty sector amounted to US$326 million in 2020.
  • Toys, DIY and hobbies: Products in the toys, DIY, and hobbies amounted to US$219 million in 2020.
  • Personal care: The online food and personal care sector rank fourth in terms of revenue, yet it’s the fastest-growing segment. From the previous year, the sector grew by 47%.

Digital payments in Singapore:

  • A global survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Mobile indicates a rise in mobile payment usage. Consumers who had made mobile payments grew from 34% in 2018 to 46% in 2019.
  • A 2018 Consumer Payment Attitudes study indicated that the majority (86%) of Singaporeans feel that contactless payments (card and mobile) are more convenient compared to cash, traditional card payments and QR payments. 
  • According to DataReportal’s Digital 2019 report, e-wallets was the choice of payment for 10% of all e-commerce transactions

Leading e-commerce players in Singapore

According to data gathered by App Annie Intelligence, iPrice and SimilarWeb, the leading e-commerce shopping apps and platforms in Singapore are: 

Top e-commerce shopping apps


From the Map of E-commerce, iPrice Group, April 2019

Lazada

  • Lazada attracted consumers through offering games and live streaming performances on its app. On average, consumers would log into the app as much as six times each day to play the in-app games.
  • Integrating e-grocer Redmart into its website and app has enabled Lazada to increase its retail offerings, gain a foothold in the thriving online groceries sector and strengthen its position as a leader in the local e-commerce space

Shopee

  • Founded in 2015, Shopee proved to be a new contender that quickly rose up the ranks 
  • Beyond Singapore, Shopee aims to drive further growth in Southeast Asia by focusing on providing hyper-localised user experience. Strategies Shopee has implemented include creating a different app for each country, as well as implementing marketing campaigns that incorporate local cultural nuances and celebrities.

Qoo10

Top e-commerce websites

From the Map of E-commerce, iPrice Group, April 2019

Qoo10 (Qoo10.sg)

  • With an average of 7.9 million visits on desktop and mobile web (Q1 2019), Qoo10 takes the top spot as the top Singapore e-commerce platform 

Lazada (Lazada.sg)

  • Lazada comes in at a close second, with 7.4 million visitors within the same period (Q1 2019)

Shopee (Shopee.sg)

  • Shopee comes in third with 2.5 million visitors (Q1 2019) in Singapore
  • Across the region, it takes the top spot for being the most-visited e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia, garnering an average of 184.8 million visitors (Q1 2019)

Top tips for Singapore e-commerce aspirants

1. Stand out in an overcrowded and fiercely competitive e-commerce landscape

With a population of just under six million, it’s unsurprising that Singapore’s e-commerce landscape can be crowded. There’s little room left for aspiring e-commerce entrepreneurs to penetrate, given that most mass-market retail segments—from lifestyle to electronics and fashion—have been captured.    

The problem is further compounded, given that Singapore’s e-commerce segment presents low barriers to entry. As such, there’s fierce competition from both local businesses, as well as global competitors—which include the likes of e-commerce behemoths like Amazon and Alibaba. 

Competing on the basis of price will prove to be a futile attempt; Alibaba’s launch of Taobao Collection in 2017 has given shoppers easy access to a wide array of low-cost products. To rise above the competition, Singapore e-commerce businesses need to:

  • Develop a strong brand image and engagement: Fashion brands abound in Singapore. Yet, companies like Love, Bonito have successfully garnered a large following of loyal consumers who eagerly snap up newly launched pieces within hours of its release. The key lies in building a strong brand image, as co-founder Rachel Lim explains: “While our competitors can copy our marketing campaigns, our strategies, our look and feel, photos and such, they can never take away our connection with our customers”.
  • Deliver premium products and experiences: Despite the allure of low prices, shopping on Taobao can be a frustrating experience. There’s a risk that your purchases may turn out to be counterfeit goods, or you may receive items that barely resemble the product images you’ve seen online. This has created a demand for premium products and purchase experiences that foster customer trust. As a business owner, you can tap into this growing need through offering a carefully curated selection of products, as well as ensuring that your customers enjoy a quality experience across all consumer touchpoints. 

2. Appeal to the value-seeking Singaporean shopper

The typical Singaporean shopper is tech-savvy and price-conscious. They are value-seekers who are apt to conducting extensive research across digital and physical channels before making a purchase. 

A survey conducted by advertising and analytics firm Blis highlighted the following: 

  • 63% of respondents indicated that they’d spent time looking for items in-store before making an online purchase. Among these consumers, 54% say it’s because they can ‘sometimes get better deals’ online.
  • A third of respondents self-identified as “Researchers” who conduct extensive in-store and online research to get the best value.
  • 28% of respondents self-identified as “Bargain Hunters” who aren’t loyal to any particular brands and make purchase decisions primarily based on value.

Additionally, Singaporeans have a penchant for shopping during nationwide sales, holidays and major online sales events. For e-commerce entrepreneurs like video game store owner Soon Qishan, these events represent significant sales opportunities. In a joint campaign with Lazada, he raked in a revenue of S$178,000 over a period of three days—a sum that was 25 times more than usual.

To begin with, you’ll need to identify key dates and events:

  • Singles’ Day 
  • Black Friday Sales
  • Cyber Monday Deals
  • 12.12 Sale
  • 9.9 Sale
  • Lazada Birthday Sale
  • Holidays: Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Christmas

You’ll also need to be well-prepared to take advantage of these events. Strategies you can implement include:

  • Utilise flexible external financing solutions: Consider applying for a flexible financing solution such as a business line of credit. Once you’ve established a credit line, you’ll be able to draw from the sum as and when required, as long as you stay within your credit limit. Having access to a pool of funds will be helpful for any inventory or marketing expenses you incur to prepare ahead for seasonal sales. 
  • Be responsive: You’ll need to be readily contactable and responsive, or you may risk losing customers if they aren’t able to obtain the information they need quickly. For small business owners who aren’t able to monitor the live chat function constantly, there are still ways you can integrate the feature effectively. Consider enabling the function only on product pages and key purchase touchpoints (such as when a consumer is viewing their shopping cart). 

3. Address your customers’ unique payment needs

The digital age has brought about a shift in consumer expectations. Shoppers have come to expect immediacy and choice, and desire flexibility in how they pay. 

In an article detailing trends in the APAC payments landscape, DigiconAsia writer Victor Ng noted the likelihood of “a bigger divide in sales performance” between businesses that have implemented methods that streamline the purchase and payments processes, and those that haven’t. 

Convenience is key—how you process payments has an impact on not just your customers’ experience, but also on your bottom line. That’s because shoppers will not hesitate to abandon their shopping cart if they’re not able to opt for their preferred payment methods.

To keep up with evolving consumer needs, e-commerce merchants need to: 

Enable a frictionless experience by adding on mobile payment methods: Given that Singaporean shoppers have a mobile-first approach, it helps to add on mobile payment methods like carrier billing. With two-factor authentication and no required pre-registration, carrier billing is an option that offers security, speed and ease-of-use for your customers.

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