by Zakir Ahmed, Vice President & General Manager – Asia, NetSuite
With an estimated worth of US$7bn, the online retail market in ASEAN 6 (Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines) is set to be the next big e-commerce gold mine with more businesses exploring new platforms to stay head in the market. Coupled with the kick-off of ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, an increased purchasing power and wider Internet penetration, e-commerce growth in emerging ASEAN economies are expected to be substantial in the long run.
But the boom of e-commerce comes with a slew of challenges. Businesses still face issues, such as the lack of a robust ecosystem, and will have to shape their supply chains to function well. Additionally, in today’s competitive landscape, customers have very little loyalty towards a specific brand, hence the need for online retailers to continuously evolve and improve their offerings.
With technology playing a huge role, businesses also need to be aware that the traditional single-channel supply chain no longer applies. Many retailers are not set up to handle increasing demands and expectations for speed and convenience, putting immense strain on traditional businesses. To add more pressure, today’s online shoppers expect to be able to purchase items not only from their own country but also regionally, throwing in various other issues to the mix, such as distance, delivery time, local taxes and preferred payment methods that may not be secure or up to date to meet consumer needs.
Fixing today’s supply chains for tomorrow’s demands
Businesses need to recognise three key strategic drivers – customer, flexibility and visibility – that are critical components to successfully integrating online channels with physical supply chains anywhere.
The bigger challenge lies with making the flow of commerce faster and more responsive to meet growing customer demands. In order to do so, businesses need to have planning and forecasting capabilities, which are key factors to enable demand-driven pull planning with scheduling and rescheduling production and distribution on the fly. This gives them the visibility to reduce human errors in forecasting and more responsiveness to movements in actual demand.
Conventional businesses tend to use supply chains that have clearly defined links and hand-overs between manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumer. However, in today’s e-commerce space, dynamic multi-dimensional networks are required. This has required supply to be flexible enough to meet fluctuating demand, including allowing shipments to be diverted or expedited at short notice.
Cloud solution as a key component for growth Businesses must be able to match the system capability of their larger counterparts by deploying modern systems that offer real-time visibility of stock and order status, robust and secure ordering and payment options, all partnered with reliable and cost-competitive delivery options. This requirement can be addressed by flexible cloud enterprise resource planning solutions that suit a company’s needs, complementing their strategy to thrive in the e-commerce field. Speed is of the essence and competitive advantage comes down to who can get the right product on the first delivery.
Effectively, both data accuracy – regionally and locally with key insights for distance, delivery time, local taxes and regulations – and availability have become fundamental success factors and differentiators between competitors, making cloud solutions for e-commerce a game changer for many. Adopting a cloud-based solution not only enables supply chain managers to make faster business decisions, but also helps them save on lost products, as it can locate a shipment during any stage of transport.
Cloud-based integrated logistics and warehouse management systems are becoming easier to use, implement and integrate, and the logistics industry has continued to mature and respond to today’s market changes. Increasing sophistication in 3PL, 4PL and e-freight marketplaces play an important role in helping to organise and streamline interaction between point-of-sale and freight providers.
Rise to the cloud or fall behind
The e-commerce boom in Asia, including Singapore, has shown no sign of slowing down. With e-commerce being hailed as a possible new driver of growth, more players are flooding the market; but only those who are able to differentiate themselves will be able to survive. The customers of tomorrow are expected to continue to raise the bar of expectations with real-time accessibility on the device of their choice, and instant, accurate access to product specifications, price and availability along with flexible delivery and payment options.
In addition, aside from having to ensure a seamless end-to-end supply chain for customers, today’s e-commerce players are also forced to compete against one another in an increasingly cluttered landscape. This underlines the fact that there has never been a more urgent time for them to evolve and transform in order to stay ahead.
As supply chains continue to be challenged by changing disruptive forces, there is little doubt that by investing in the latest cloud-based technologies, retailers will be in a far better position to compete and survive. From small regional or niche retailers to multi-million dollar global giants, cloud technology is revolutionising how the industry engages with trading partners and more importantly, identifies opportunities for business growth.
About the Author
Zakir Ahmed is the vice president and general manager of NetSuite, Asia charged with building and leading the organisation across NetSuite’s offices in Singapore, the Philippines and Hong Kong. In this role, he will be guiding a number of high performing teams to bring complete solutions to NetSuite customers across the region. Zakir is based in our Singapore sales hub that services the Asia region. Zakir has more than 20 years of experience in management, customer acquisition and retention as well as sales leadership across the globe, complemented by a strong understanding of the Asian market.