How mcommerce jumped the queue in South East Asia

The ability to directly and instantly – convert a reader’s product interest into a purchase is gaining momentum in South East Asia. One of the obvious reasons is that the adoption of an ecommerce lifestyle is growing at 33 per cent. Another is because magazines are not shy to experiment with shop-able content models, of which mcommerce is quickly becoming the most popular.

In late 2015, two Thai magazine titles – Image and IN – and four international titles published in South East Asia – Her World, Maxim, Madame Figaro and Attitude – started to offer visual-search and mobilecommerce technology to their readers. This was made possible when Singapore-based iQNECT, a visual-search startup, formed a partnership with Thailands “creative engagement agency” C True, offering publishers of the magazines the ability to deliver “new experiences to magazine readers”.




Point, snap, pay

At the time Niamh Byrne, chief operating officer at iQNECT, explained the aim was “to bring offline media to the online world”, allowing magazine readers to have instant shopping and other experiences using mobile devices. Inter alia readers had to download an iQNECT app, which would then allow them to access videos, claim coupons and other offers, and purchase goods by snapping images of printed magazine pages with their smartphones. 

Her World in Thailand was the first to adopt and enjoy success with the app. It allowed readers to see videos and product offers by taking photos of the magazine’s cover, features and selected advertisements. By November of 2015 the app was improved to allow readers to purchase certain products found in the magazine’s pages without leaving the app.

In August 2016, Esquire Singapore, a magazine for “sophisticated thinking” men, in an attempt to also take advantage of the possibility of an additional revenue stream, adopted a similar system, linking readers via a mobile app to exclusive content such as video and partner content. The magazine explained that the innovation aims “to seamlessly connect the print and digital experience and transform reader engagement with targeted multimedia content”. This multimedia experience, however, also offered what the magazine referred to as an “mcommerce” (‘m’ is for ‘mobile’) opportunity for readers. Simply put, sophisticated thinking men can now buy the products in the magazine by viewing them through their mobile phones, followed by a few seamless clicks. The proposition took off and more magazines followed suit.



Return on creative campaigns

Byrne said the success of the technology and its adoption was proof that print is not a dying medium. “Visual search acts as a bridge between the sumptuous tactility of print media and instant responsiveness of mobile commerce. The technology enhances readers’ magazine experience by connecting them with content and mobilecommerce options related to what they are reading.”

For publishers and brands, Byrne continues, this means the point of inspiration and point of sale becomes “virtually indistinguishable, thus lowering drop-off rates and raising the return on creative campaigns”.

iQNECT also points out, that apart from enhancing the reader’s experience and enjoyment of the magazine, visual search technology captures the critical moment when peak consumer interest is met, providing instant additional product information and the ability to click buy’ within a single app.

The adoption of this technology is also successful in high luxury brands. Singapore-based luxury watch magazine, Revolution has, earlier this year, launched an ecommerce arm, partnering with the new ecommerce platform WatchBox. The partnership sees them sell pre-owned timepieces and, separately, selling new limited-edition models from 10 brands, including Tag Heuer, IWC Schaffhausen and Hublot. While WatchBox provides the products, Revolution provides the storytelling and videos.  



More editorial integrity

Founder of Revolution, Wei Koh, has also transformed his “men’s luxury bible”, The Rake, into a vehicle to boost ecommerce. Says Koh in an interview with The Rake founding editor-in-chief Christian Barker: “I believe the future of publishing is the merger of informative entertainment and commerce…I have grave concerns for any magazine today that remains fixed in the belief that the old-school advertising revenue structure is going to be viable in the coming years.”

He does not believe that this approach turns his magazines and websites into glorified catalogues. In fact, claims Koh, “it involves more editorial integrity than the old model, which was advertising-driven and meant publications had to write only nice things about all their advertisers”.

While visual search technology is not at all unique to South East Asia, it does seem to be more successful than in many other parts of world. Koh suggest that one of the reasons magazines are starting to take so much advantage of it is because ecommerce, or mcommerce, and digital payment systems are readily accepted as lifestyle norms in South East Asia. A recent combined study by Google and Temasek, an investment company headquartered in Singapore, suggests that ecommerce sales in the region will grow from US$10.9 billion in 2017 to $88.1 billion in 2025. This represents a growth rate of 33 per cent.


Huge opportunity 

In Thailand alone, the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, there are approximately 57 million internet users, the highest in the region, says Dezan Shira & Associates, a pan-Asia, multi-disciplinary professional services firm, providing legal, tax and operational advisory to international corporate investors. This creates an huge opportunity for publishers who want to grow ecommerce. At present, the Thai ecommerce market is valued at $3.5 billion and is expected to generate revenue growth rate of 13.2 per cent annually, reaching US$5.8 billion in 2022.

A statistic publishers interested in mcommerce can particularly take note of is the fact that since 2016, Asia-Pacific had the highest number of mobile internet connections, smartphone users and the highest rate of mobile shopper penetration worldwide. The Asia-Pacific mcommerce 2017 report by international market research company Research and Markets, says the region is the global leader in mcommerce because almost half of Internet users in the region purchase products via mobile phones. South Korea, as an example, is cited as a top mobile shopping player where mcommerce exceeded 50 per cent of online retail sales between 2016 and 2017.


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