Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the move from offline to online has taken off faster than expected. Today, 85% of people worldwide are now shopping online. Among all the countries, we can keep an eye on the digital economy development of Southeast Asia. 

Two factors make Southeast Asia unique:

A. The number of Internet users in SEA continues to rise exponentially.
B. The basket sizes of online buyers in SEA tend to increase each passing year.

There are very few regions in the world where these two trends are occurring simultaneously and this makes SEA a potential area for growth.

The customer behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic in Southeast Asia

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerates shoppers’ online purchase behavior. A previous study expected that Southeast Asia would have 310 million digital consumers by 2025. However, this number has been reached in the year 2020. It means that 5 years of digital adoption has happened in 1 year and 70% of people in Southeast Asia aged 15 and above are purchasing goods and services online.

In many aspects, SEA sees more consumption moving online, whether it is groceries, food, FMCG goods, online sources of information, entertainment, or even banking and payments. Touchless payments and digital payments such as e-wallets were getting popular in SEA. For example, in 2020, more than 45% of Shopee’s orders in Indonesia were paid with their e-wallet service.

Covid-19 not only impacted the way people purchase, the way people discover what they like gradually become relying on social media and short videos. Adapting to the trend, a new way to gain traffic on social media was adopted by many sellers. By going live and talking about the products with passion, live streaming offers sellers a new way to promote their products and increase sales.

The prosperity of conversational commerce in Southeast Asia

Once people started to face Covid-19 locked down rules, the usage of Messaging apps and Messenger went up considerably. According to studies, 65% of people prefer messaging over calls and emails and the number is continuing to grow. While messaging becomes a common behavior, people start to value the development of conversational commerce.

Southeast Asia is leading globally when it comes to conversational commerce. Especially in Thailand and Vietnam, C-commerce is the core of how people shop. Reports showed that 36%-40% of people surveyed in Thailand and Vietnam are already buying via chat and more than 85% of people are fully aware of conversational commerce. People in Thailand now can browse products on Facebook, chat with sellers and transfer deposits on messenger, and eventually close the transaction within 5 minutes.

Using conversational commerce platforms can help to scale up businesses. There are 2 out of 3 people surveyed in the Asia-Pacific Region claim that they’re more likely to buy from businesses they can message. This means having one-on-one conversations to build relationships with shoppers gives more opportunities to convert them into buyers. Moreover, messaging can help businesses respond quickly in a personalized manner to customers, and it is easy to use that businesses are capable of attracting new users and remarketing to the users that they already have.

Facebook innovation of making a smoother and more straightforward road for purchases in SEA.

In Thailand, Facebook announced the reliability of secure payments via Messenger. With Facebook pay, businesses can accept credit cards, bank transfers, and other popular means of payment in Thailand from any device, and it truly makes a smoother purchase for customers. 

People do not need to hop to another app and enter a bank account, then complete transactions and take a screenshot and go back to the chat app to finish a purchase. Now, people could do this all within Messenger, very seamlessly, and pay directly through Facebook Pay. With innovation, businesses can remove the friction out of the purchasing transaction and increase conversion rates by providing a better shopping experience.

Besides, due to the trend of live streaming, Facebook is working on Facebook Live Shopping, a commerce tool that people do not have to jump out of the lifestream to do the transactions. Shortly, when sellers are using live streams to interact with customers, customers can directly do the transactions with financially protected payments during the Facebook live.


Undoubtedly, Covid-19 accelerates the development of the digital economy in SEA. Today, 20 billion messages are exchanged with businesses on Messenger every month. And that’s a whopping 1000% increase from 2016. Furthermore, over 40% of people surveyed say they will continue to shop online more frequently even after the pandemic.

This trend extends across SEA where online spending has seen an increase of 32%. Following this trajectory, consumers are expected to spend three times of average online spending in 5 years. And the overall online spending in this region is set to triple from an average spend of more than 100 USD in 2018 to nearly 400 USD in 2025.

We can see an exponential growth of the digital economy development during the new normal in SEA, and the new future is believed to be optimistic when the Covid-19 pandemic passes.

References: Facebook Summit Malaysia 2020