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This article was published on June 9, 2014

Southeast Asian retailers are like ‘deer in headlights’ with e-commerce, but things are changing

Southeast Asian retailers are like ‘deer in headlights’ with e-commerce, but things are changing
Jon Russell
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Jon Russell

Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.

E-commerce is taking over Southeast Asia. Already, consumers can buy items in messaging apps, but future storefronts might be found in places as diverse as photo-taking apps.

That’s according to Paul Srivorakul, founder of Southeast Asia-based e-commerce enabling company aCommerce. The helps businesses establish a footprint online and on mobile, and is particularly key in helping e-commerce firms with little or no experience make use of the web.

The emergence of the internet as a retail platform has armed e-commerce firms in the US, Europe, China and East Asia with vast amounts of data and analytics to dig through. But the ability to track all manner of figures related to customers, suppliers and logistics is still not being used by many in Southeast Asia, Srivorakul says

“Some of the time, retail partners simply don’t know what do with the data that we provide them with,” Srivorakul tells TNW. “That’s where we help consulting and translating it into their terms — otherwise they are like deer in headlights.”

Not set up for data-driven commerce

The problem, Srivorakul explains, is that few retailers in Southeast Asia have the back-end technology to effectively do online retail.

For example, some do not have their inventory on a single system — which means that a shop assistant isn’t able to tell you if an item that is sold out in one branch is available at another. In e-commerce terms, that makes it difficult to track inventory across the web, hook a web store into their system, manage inventories online, and more.

We’re previously written about how aCommerce aims to ease this ”bottleneck” with a multi-faceted approach that includes bespoke technology, warehousing, logistics and also consulting for retailers in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

“If you silo data away in different businesses, then you lose the whole value of online retail,” Srivorakul says. “That data can tell you what marketing and ads are working best, which products are selling well in each city, and a lot of other business-critical information.”


Solving the issues is not easy, and that’s why aCommerce has announced a $10.7 million Series A funding round today, with participation from a range of investors across Thailand, Japan and other parts of Asia.

That’s certainly the largest round (that we know of) for a Thailand-based startup, and one of the largest across Southeast Asia this year. It comes just six months after Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile operator, led a $3.1 million seed funding round for aCommerce.

Making bets

The new infusion of money will help aCommerce scale its business across its five core markets and provide a basis for expanding into other countries in Southeast Asia. The one-year-old company currently has 250 staff, but that figure could double by the end of the year.

The funding will also be spent on tech solutions, which Srivorakul says are a key focus right now. Indeed, the lack of APIs for retailers and stores often means aCommerce builds “manual processes” to circumvent them and solve issues.

Srivorakul says that, above all, he now has license to gamble more:

The new funding gives us a runway. If you don’t have enough funding, then you can’t make enough pivots to find the right place to make your business mode. Rather than placing just two bets, I can now make five or six, which gives us a longer runway to address all of the opportunities in the fast evolving e-commerce landscape in Southeast Asia.

The solutions that aCommerce will “test out aggressively” include online-to-offline commerce — something that Alibaba is pioneering in China — and cross-border commerce initiatives, another thing that is synonymous with Alibaba’s business.

Alibaba recently took a big step into Southeast Asia with a $250 million investment in SingPost. While Srivorakul admits that the deal took him by surprise, he welcomes the Chinese company’s interest in Southeast Asia, calling it a validation for the work aCommerce is doing and a development that will move e-commerce forward.

aCommerce doesn’t run any consumer-facing businesses, but its revenue share deals with partners means it had a vested interest in seeing retailers do well. With Line, WeChat, Amazon and Rocket Internet already among its customer base, aCommerce is becoming a go-to partner for many within the web retail ecosystem.