Guest View: Converting eCommerce challenges into business differentiators

Lee Field, Head of IT Consulting, Asia-Pacific, Verizon Terremark

The Asia Pacific eCommerce sector is experiencing an unprecedented boom. eMarketer estimates that by 2016, 38% of all business-to-consumer (B2C) eCommerce sales will come from Asia-Pacific, from an estimated 453 million digital buyers in Asia-Pacific (44.4% of 1.03 billion digital buyers globally)[1]. In emerging markets, Ernst & Young estimates[2] that the number of middle-class consumers with disposable incomes and fast Internet connections will grow from 525 million people today to some three billion people by 2030.

These statistics, coupled with MasterCard surveys on Asia-Pacific online shopping patterns[3], show that new consumers are fast replacing cash-based transactions with secure and innovative electronic payment technologies. This proves eCommerce is now genuinely an accessible and viable consumption channel.

Some pain points, however, remain to be addressed and can become opportunities as the industry continues to evolve: customer experience, time-to-market, and geographic boundaries.

How can eCommerce companies turn these into strategically differentiating strong points in this burgeoning sector?

1.       Enhancing customer experience

The term "customer experience" takes on a completely different meaning when applied to a commercial transaction in which physical interactions between seller and buyer have been eliminated.

When a website does not work properly or fast enough, a potential customer simply clicks on to a different merchant. When the chosen product is unavailable or insufficiently visible (photos, videos, technical specifications), the customer looks for information elsewhere. Customers are now also increasingly taking their grievances to a wide and unforgiving Internet audience.

Effective, interactive, and intuitive Web design is crucial in hooking a casual Web surfer as a first-time customer. But keeping a customer's favorable attention even after he or she has logged out of a Web site requires a much more holistic approach.

Harnessing the growing importance of mobile devices in the region is essential. According to a recent Nielsen report on mobile usage in Asia[4], smartphone penetration in Asia-Pacific is growing exponentially with over 70% penetration rates in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and China. Increasingly sophisticated mobile devices are being used for multiple daily activities, including making online transactions.

Customer empowerment driven by mobile adoption allows online merchants to reach otherwise inaccessible audiences. The rise of alternative consumption platforms on mobile devices (social media, shopping apps, eCoupons, etc.), combined with niche products and cost-effective service offerings, also multiplies merchants' opportunities to reach and engage buyers.

Improving the quality of customer experience means ensuring performance and guaranteeing a consistent service regardless of the chosen device. An effective IT infrastructure and the expertise to speed up page loads or deliver content over multiple devices are equally central to a positive customer experience.

2.       Improving time-to-market

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