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Retail data surges in Southeast Asia as major commerce sites break down walls

Person shown from behind pointing at the sky, with clouds shaped like a shopping bag and shopping cart.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

Retail media is having its moment in Southeast Asia — largely thanks to the rise of super-apps and e-commerce giants like Grab, Gojek, Tokopedia, Carousell and Lazada.

The regional uptick comes at a perfect time for advertisers as Google phases out third-party cookies.

The rising popularity of retail media networks (RMN) in the Southeast Asia (SEA) market may align with global trends, but what’s distinguishing the phenomenon in the region is dominant players’ more open approaches to handling data.

Instead of limiting retail data use to buying ads on an internal platform, some of SEA’s super-apps and e-commerce players are exploring ways to share data across platforms. This is likely unthinkable for platforms of similar weight in the West, where big names like Amazon and Meta typically fence off data for use on their own platforms.

As to why retail players in SEA have been willing to be so collaborative, the answer likely lies in just how fragmented the market is — a result of its sheer diversity.

The region is made up of multiple countries — 9 to 10 markets, depending on who you ask — each with its own culture, consumer habits and data privacy laws.

To further complicate things, there are several major players in the region, with different countries being market strongholds for different super-apps and retailers.

“The retail ecosystem in APAC is much more diverse than in the West,” Wen Zhe Lim, director of advertising and partnerships at foodpanda, tells The Current.

“APAC has a high proportion of mobile-first and mobile-only consumers, a higher percentage of commerce delivered via on-demand fulfilment, and a wider variety of distribution models across direct-to-consumer, marketplace, and secondhand,” Lim says.

“This all means that the APAC consumer discovers, researches, considers and decides on purchasing products in a very different way: across multiple internet properties, instead of solely within the search bar of a single app or website.”

For brands, this makes a familiar problem even more complex, says Lim. They have to find ways to optimize their campaigns across multiple open internet inventories, as well as for audiences in an environment where identity and behavior are difficult to establish.

Asia’s booming market

RMNs’ openness to sharing retail data across platforms may offer advertisers and brands in Asia some relief as it provides the opportunity to access new customers across markets, even with the deprecation of third-party cookies on the open internet.

This is also a welcome move for advertisers looking to get in front of customers, as Southeast Asia boasts over 565 million internet users.

It should be little surprise, then, that advertising spend on RMNs in Southeast Asia is projected to hit USD$4 billion by 2030, according to a recent study by Kantar and GrabAds.

Furthermore, ad spend growth on RMNs in each of the region’s countries is projected to surge higher than the global growth index. Indonesia is said to lead the pack with a forecasted growth of 219% from 2023 to 2030, with Vietnam and Thailand rounding out the top three to watch in the region.

“Investments in RMNs will continue to grow over the next few years, whether globally or in Southeast Asia,” Ken Mandel, regional managing director and head of GrabAds, told The Current.

“As more and more advertisers in Southeast Asia see RMNs as a pivotal channel in their media mix, we anticipate more innovation in the way advertisers leverage the unique ecosystem features of RMNs to build their ad campaigns.”

Jumping on the bandwagon

Dominant players in the region that have embraced the practice of sharing retail data include Gojek, foodpanda, Deliveroo and Tokopedia, as well as Singapore-based retailer FairPrice Group.

Food-delivery service Deliveroo and super-app Gojek, for instance, struck a long-term partnership in Singapore in 2023 to allow merchants access to a wider pool of consumers and the chance for greater brand visibility in such a competitive and saturated market.

Tokopedia, a top e-commerce player in Indonesia, became one of the first in the country to enable access to its retail data across the open internet. This is a massive move in the highly populous nation, particularly with Tokopedia boasting a reach of more than 100 million monthly active users spanning across 99% of the districts in the country.

FairPrice Group’s initiative in Singapore, meanwhile, offers retailers and brands the chance to access its customer base of more than 2 million members.

Another player that has recently jumped on the trend is food- and grocery-delivery service foodpanda, Asia’s biggest outside of China, which signed a strategic partnership with The Trade Desk in April of this year to make its audiences available across off-site ad inventory.

“First-party data from RMNs includes strong signals such as past purchase behavior and equips brands with the ‘who,’” says foodpanda’s Lim, “while The Trade Desk’s vast range of open internet advertising inventory provides them with the ‘where.’ Together, these solve the challenges presented by APAC’s fragmented consumer purchase journey.”

Still in the early days

While the trend has been picking up in recent years, not everyone is onboard yet. GrabAds, for one, remains focused on providing brands with a full-funnel solution within its own platform.

"We anticipate more innovation in the way advertisers leverage the unique ecosystem features of RMNs to build their ad campaigns.”

Ken Mandel, regional managing director and head of GrabAds

That’s not denying the evolving popularity of RMNs in the region — based on data from the first half of 2023 alone, Grab’s ad division contributed approximately USD$100 million to overall revenue on an annualized basis.

“Southeast Asia as a region is primed for RMNs to thrive,” says GrabAds’ Mandel. “Within the region, growth rates and adoption of RMNs across the region are also catalyzed by unique local factors.”

Whether retail data is shared across the open internet or limited to internal platforms, Mandel believes that RMNs in Asia will remain vital in optimizing the success of ad campaigns as long as it offers “essential ingredients” like first-party data, a sizeable audience and the ability to “close the loop.”

Lim, on the other hand, is hopeful that the trend will offer greater opportunities for brands to tackle the region’s fragmented consumer landscape.

“The closer integration of RMNs and open internet properties is a much-needed preliminary step within a broader process,” says Lim. “In order to address these forms of fragmentation, each part of the advertising ecosystem partners more closely to make media planning, buying and targeting more seamless along each of these dimensions.

“The end result will be an APAC advertising marketplace that is more robust, adaptable, and competitive as publishers and platforms cooperate to build the infrastructure to run, measure, and optimize campaigns wherever consumers are.”

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk Inc.