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Thailand 2017 | IT & E-COMMERCE | FOCUS: E-COMMERCE

In 2014, when Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba made headlines for listing the largest global IPO in history (USD25 billion), many had come to recognize that the industry, which was typically dominated by Silicon Valley heavyweights, was gravitating drastically eastward.

In Thailand, with the ASEAN region consolidating into a single market in 2016, thereby giving Thailand's vast manufacturing sector unprecedented access to 600 million consumers, the demand for innovative marketing solutions has seldom been greater. These factors, combined with rapid modernization in the country's telecom sector have given birth to this new digital era of commerce—a trend which is on the rise like no other.

In 2013—a year before Alibaba's global launch—Thailand's total e-commerce market was valued at USD21.8 billion. Only 12 months later the industry had grown by a whopping 164% to USD58 billion—followed by a further 3.16% rise in 2015, where e-commerce accounted for USD60 billion of total sales across the country. Broken down, the majority of these sales, or USD35 billion, accounts for B2B transactions, while the remaining USD25 billion represents direct consumer purchases. However, with Thailand's overall exports struggling to return to their strong growth trajectory for a third consecutive year, the B2B segment of the e-commerce sector in fact dipped by a slight 0.34% in 2015. Rather, local and regional start-ups—prompted by favorable market conditions and a growing tech-savvy workforce—have been left to fly the flag for the industry, resulting in a 15% increase in B2C sales in 2015.

The government, for its part, has been quick to react to this trend by recognizing its crucial role in stimulating both domestic production and export levels. Speaking in an exclusive interview to TBY, Thailand's Minister of Commerce, Apiradi Tantraporn, admitted that “e-commerce will be a major element of our export growth. We are encouraging businesses and entrepreneurs to make use of e-commerce... We have a department that is nurturing this growth, which we call the Incubator, a program to train and develop e-commerce enterprises, and, when they are stronger, to partner them with bigger businesses."

One lead example that companies in the incubator will hope to follow is the pan-ASEAN Lazada. Established in 2011, the Singapore-based online trader had jumped to USD1.3 billion in sales across the region by 2015, with Thailand accounting for USD280 million. Occupying a dominant market share in the local e-commerce market, Lazada Thailand revealed that as much as 30% of all transactions originated from Bangkok alone, while the best-selling categories are health, home and living, and beauty.

According to a recent study by the Electronic Transactions Development Agency, Thailand's e-commerce market is forecasted to grow by a staggering 30-40% in 2016. Above all, this success has been attributed to the widespread access of 4G broadband services throughout the country. For example, over 65% of all Lazada Thailand transactions so far in 2016 were placed from a mobile phone, compared to 1% in 2012.
With the number of 4G subscribers expected to double this year, Thailand's online traders are on the brink of redefining the way society understands commerce. More importantly, however, their surge is sending shockwaves throughout the economy as manufacturers, retailers, and logistics providers alike begin to grapple with this unstoppable opportunity.