Asian consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to get their online shopping fix instead of desktop PCs, which is why Web retailers are latching on to the trend and providing mobile-friendly online sites or mobile apps to better serve their customers.
Lamine Lahouasnia, senior analyst for retailing at Euromonitor International, said the "phenomenal rise" of smartphone adoption in the Asia-Pacific region has compelled Internet retailers to dive into mobile commerce much quicker than their western counterparts. This involves creating a mobile-friendly site or native mobile app so that customers can shop more effectively, he added.
His observation was corroborated by Dickson Seow, director of corporate communications at PayPal Asia-Pacific, who said consumers are making more frequent and higher-value payments on mobile devices. Citing PayPal data, he said total spending from mobile shopping in Singapore, for example, jumped 660 percent from S$43 million (US$34 million) in 2010 to S$328 million (US$259.4 million) in 2011.
"Of these, shoppers spending S$244 million (US$189 million) on smartphones represented close to three-quarters of the total mobile commerce market, with the remaining S$82 million (US$63 million) coming from shoppers via tablet devices," Seow said.
The payments provider earlier predicted mobile commerce for Singapore will grow tenfold to S$3.1 billion (US$2.4 billion) by 2015.
This shift to mobile shopping was described as the "greatest evolution" of e-commerce by Groupon Singapore CEO Karl Chong. For the company, over 30 percent of its April 2012 revenue came from purchases made on mobile devices, he stated.
Groupon had earlier stated mobile users tend to spend 50 percent more on online purchases than those using desktop computers.
Therese Chan, a Singapore-based media coordinator, highlighted the importance of having good mobile-optimized Web sites to retain customers on the mobile platform, though. She prefers shopping online on traditional PCs currently as some Web sites fail to deliver a compelling retail experience on her mobile devices.
"Plus, a full-featured Web site can let me see the product better by allowing me to flip the product around 360 degrees," Chan added.
Shop-online-collect-offline model viable
Beyond mobile commerce, the ability to purchase online vouchers and collect the goods at a brick-and-mortar store is spurring online commerce in dense urban cities, Chong noted. Citing Groupon as an example, he said cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong are "perfect" for the buy-online-collect-offline shopping model.
"The Groupon Shop model is one that is great for cities with high population densities where it is possible to have one central location for our Groupon customers to come and pick up their items," he said. The daily deals company opened its first physical store in Singapore at the end of April last year. It subsequently opened another in Hong Kong in November.
Lahouasnia said it is "interesting" Groupon chose Hong Kong and Singapore as test markets for its brick-and-mortar store concept. He explained that Internet retailing has failed to reach the same level of development in these two markets compared to others because of the extended opening hours favored by many store-based retailers as well as readily-accessible shopping centers in most areas.
He added the brick-and-mortar strategy for online shopping will likely work well in these markets, including Japan and South Korea, but will be fairly redundant in geographically vast countries such as India or China.
Malaysia-based lawyer Foong Cheng Leong pointed out shopping centers and merchants with a physical store may not always carry the items he wants to buy.
He said he shops online "all the time" because the sites he visit offer products he cannot find in other stores. These items include antiques such as stamps and old documents, Foong added.