Key industry leaders discuss challenges and opportunities of the digital commerce ecosystem

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing ceremony between Singapore Management University (SMU) and digital commerce enabler Synagie was held on 17 May 2022. With this partnership, more than 60 SMU-certified programmes are slated to be co-developed by SMU Academy (SMUA), the professional training arm of SMU and Synagie Commerce Academy (SCA) to plug the skills gap of professionals in the technology and eCommerce sector in the region.  

Following the ceremony held at SMU’s Mochtar Riady Auditorium was an insightful panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities for the next decade of eCommerce. Moderated by the Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Business Federation, Mr Lam Yi Young, the panel included representatives from the digital commerce ecosystem; Ms Moony Li (Executive Vice President Marketing Solutions, Lazada), Mr Joel Leong (Co-Founder, ShopBack), Mr Ken Yamada (General Manager of Digital Commerce, Nike), Ms Pauline Ng (Founder and Managing Director of homegrown skincare brand, Porcelain) and SMU Assistant Professor of Communication Management, Dr Roh Sungjong. Topics discussed during the panel included how brands can leverage data to better understand consumer behaviour, and the role that the eCommerce industry can play to achieve sustainability goals.

Challenges and Opportunities

Mr Lam kicked off the session by seeking the views of the panellists on the current trends for eCommerce. For Assistant Professor Roh, a key challenge that the industry is facing now is personalisation. Globally, companies are facing increasing roadblocks in collecting data due to the rise of internet data privacy policies, and this has impacted the tracking of consumer preferences.  However, he cautioned that eCommerce players need to strike a balance at the same time; overuse of consumer data may also cause a backlash, leading companies to lose customers due to over-customisation by online platforms, when individuals feel that their privacy has been intruded upon.  Ms Li shared that during the two years of the pandemic, Lazada doubled its number of customers.  This upward trend is not expected to end soon, so the challenge for companies is to find a focus and be consistent in their strategy. Mr Leong added that companies need to continually find new ways to engage existing customers and grow that base.

With regard to increasing competition in the market, Assistant Professor Roh said, “Competition will always be out there. Rather than avoiding the competition, you should build a strong community for your customers. Try to entice your customers and build loyalty to your brand. Avoiding competition will not serve as a long-term solution. The fundamentals of your business should not change when it comes to building your prediction based on data. Learn from your data.”

Sustainability - What role can eCommerce play?

On how eCommerce companies can contribute to the global cause towards sustainability, the panellists shared some key areas to look into, which included product design, procurement processes, recycling, incentivising customers to avoid order returns, or having a green office for a start. Companies can also embark on marketing campaigns to promote environmentally friendly products and brands to increase awareness about sustainability. For eCommerce platforms, using sustainable packaging for the fulfilment of orders to be shipped to customers can make an impact in protecting the environment. These would be worthwhile investments and affect consumer preferences in the long run. Reiterating the point, Ms Li also shared that according to a Lazada survey, more than half of their younger customers think about sustainability before they make a purchase decision and are willing to pay more to support sustainable goals.

Future Outlooks

Capping off the session, panellists shared what they envision in the future of the eCommerce scene:

-The industry could disrupt itself with the fast pace of developments, innovations and new technologies.

-eCommerce will continue to grow along with the competition. Not all players will survive, so it is important to keep learning from data, about how customers are changing, and what they want from the platforms. Only companies who are able to interact successfully with their customers would be able to thrive.

-The omni channel shopping experience will be more integrated, where both online and offline experiences will be more seamless and cohesive. 

-Ecommerce will be a mainstream shopping channel, beyond price sensitivity reasons. This would be built on three foundations – technology, logistics and payment.