While president-elect Donald Trump is working hard to stop China from becoming a global superpower, China hasn’t slowed its digital hegemony in Southeast Asia — and in Southeast Asia, China means Alibaba (of course). After identifying Southeast Asia as being on the cusp of an eCommerce golden age, Jack Ma and his team swooped in four months later and picked up Lazada, the region’s leading ecommerce marketplace, for a crisp $1 billion.
The Lazada-Alibaba deal, Alibaba’s largest overseas acquisition to date, is a pivotal event for Southeast Asia and its implications span the entire commercial value chain from digital advertising, logistics, finance, insurance and even healthcare.
A look back at 2016
Even without the Lazada deal, this year still proved eventful for eCommerce in the region: fast-fashion fizzled out and Rocket Internet’s Zalora ending up selling for peanuts to Thai retail conglomerate Central Group.
Singpost’s headaches continued after the sudden removal of its Group CEO Wolfgang Baier in 2015, the company also lost its COO, CFO and the group’s chairman stepped down amidst a corporate governance scandal. These events pushed back the company’s deal with Alibaba a third time and wasn’t closed until October.
Across the region, asset-heavy B2C eCommerce suffered. Singapore’s homegrown player RedMart was acquired by Lazada after it couldn’t bleed anymore money and Ascend Group’s iTruemart shut down in the Philippines only a few months after boasting that it would become the first regional eCommerce player by 2017.
Japan’s eCommerce juggernaut Rakuten withdrew from Southeast Asia and sold its Thailand business back to the original founder. Moxy moved away from traditional mass eCommerce while merging with Indonesia’s Bilna to become Orami, a female-focused content and commerce play that raised funding from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.
Borrowing Jack Ma’s terminology, if 2016 was the appetizer, then 2017 will be the main course for eCommerce in Southeast Asia. With a $238 billion grand prize and Amazon poised to enter Singapore in Q1, it’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.