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Southeast Asia Ecommerce 2021: Public health uncertainty clouds outlook

Like many regions around the world, Southeast Asia experienced an ecommerce boom in 2020, as various pandemic-driven social lockdowns encouraged more shopping from home. According to our estimates, ecommerce grew by 35.2% collectively in the region last year, and our newest forecast projects 14.3% growth this year. However, traditional retail is still overwhelmingly dominant.

The six major economies that we track in the region will produce $970.83 billion in overall retail sales this year, of which only 4.6%—or $45.07 billion—will transact via ecommerce. This is one of the lowest regional ecommerce shares in the world, suggesting unusually large room for growth, particularly given the scale of the combined population of the six markets.

Indonesia accounts for nearly half of the ecommerce in Southeast Asia, which is unsurprising given its size. We forecast $20.21 billion in digital sales for the country this year, a 15% increase over 2020. The rest of the regional markets we track—Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, and the Philippines—land far behind Indonesia, but their relative rankings accord with expectations given each country’s population, level of economic development, and per capita income in relation to one another.

The Philippines slightly underperforms, due at least partially to the idiosyncratic logistical challenges associated with trying to deliver ecommerce to roughly 2,000 populated islands. By contrast, tiny Singapore punches above its weight class—as usual—thanks to its high per capita income.

The growth story for each country is more divergent, and the coronavirus pandemic continues to heavily affect all six markets.

The Philippines and Vietnam will produce somewhat higher growth this year thanks to their smaller bases, but all six countries will decelerate considerably from their 2020 highs. Last year, amid the first wave of pandemic lockdowns, every country in the region saw acceleration in ecommerce growth compared with 2019. Singapore, in particular, skyrocketed from 15.5% growth in 2019 to 73.6% growth last year. Every country grew its ecommerce sales by at least 28.0% in 2020, and the region expanded by 35.2% overall.