Smartphones Have Changed Asia’s Retail Game

Masao Kakihara / November 2015

First the Internet changed shopping by taking it online. Then the customer journey fragmented even more with endless choices, the need for immediacy, and the rise of mobile and video. In this 3rd section of our three part series on the Consumer Barometer, we take a closer look at retail behavior across Asia.

Buying something used to be a pretty straightforward process. For big-ticket items, consumers sought recommendations from friends and family, read a review or two in a magazine, and then headed off to the store to make their purchase. For smaller things, many just went directly to the store, scanned the shelves, checked out prices and brands, and made their choice. But that was before the Internet and online shopping came along.

Today there is no longer one direct path to purchase. It’s a complex network of trails that involve a slew of devices, websites, apps, social media platforms, e-commerce outlets, and brick-and-mortar stores. There are now countless ways to compare options and pricing, or get product reviews and recommendations. The fragmentation of what was once a linear consumer journey is demonstrated in the Consumer Barometer study, which reveals the incredibly diverse buying habits of APAC. Here are the major findings from the part of the study that explores shopping and buying habits.

There is no longer one direct path to purchase. It’s a complex network of trails that involve a slew of devices, websites, apps, social media platforms, e-commerce outlets, and brick-and-mortar stores.

How do people in Asia find and research products?

  • More than 50% of people in most Asian countries surveyed utilize both on- and offline sources for product research (with some populations exceeding 70%). By comparison, only 32% of U.S. and 24% of U.K. shoppers use both.
  • Vietnam ranks among the top countries for both on- and offline research. And the Vietnamese do a lot of research before they buy: 96% did some sort of research prior to making a recent purchase. When it comes to their online activity, 71% of Vietnamese rely heavily on search engines.
  • It’s not just the Vietnamese. Search engines are the most common medium for online research around Asia, including in Thailand (77%) and Malaysia (74%). In fact, with the exception of Indonesia (27%), every country surveyed showed a higher percentage of people using search engines for product research than in the U.S. (at 36%).
  • When it comes to their “I-want-to-buy” moments, the Consumer Barometer found that the majority of Asian shoppers researched their product purchases “moments” or “hours” before buying (as opposed to days or weeks).

How are people in Asia buying the products they choose?

  • Shoppers in Asia follow two kinds of ROPO paths: research online, purchase offline or research online, purchase online.
  • In India and Indonesia, a high percentage of customers are still heading to brick-and-mortar stores to make their purchases at 82% and 87%, respectively. When it comes to purchasing online however, Japan (44%), South Korea (50%), and Taiwan (41%) are leading the way.
  • How are online purchases being made? In Japan, on computers mostly. A whopping 92% use a computer when checking out their shopping cart (vs. 6% via smartphones).
  • While only 11% of those surveyed in India buy online, many who do are using smartphones—and at a higher percentage (34%) than most other Asian countries. India is surpassed only by Indonesia, where 67% are completing their purchases on smartphones.
  • Most Asian shoppers forego going direct (to manufacturer and retailer sites, for example) and instead opt to purchase from general online retailers and price comparison sites.

Takeaways for brands:

  • There are many places shoppers can go to learn about, compare, and purchase products. Make sure your content is useful and concise enough to break through the noise.
  • If you have brick-and-mortar stores, your digital-marketing strategy should include ways to meet users online in their micro-moments and deliver on them in stores.
  • Make sure users can find you online via search and targeted marketing. Don’t count on them to head straight to your site.
  • Although most people take no action after completing a purchase, a significant number of shoppers in Thailand, China, India, and Vietnam either shared a purchase experience on social media or posted a review. In these markets in particular, your post-purchase efforts are especially important.
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