Get excited: ‘The Roaring 20s’ report predicts a $1 trillion digital economy in the region by 2030.

GUESS how many people began using the internet in South-east Asia this
year? 10 million? Way too low. Try again. 20 million? Double that figure and
you’ll be spot on.

Forty million new users joined the 440 million in the region who are
already online, 80% of whom are digital consumers, spending their dollars, pesos
and ringgit on fashion, food, transportation, and gaming.

No real surprise, the rush to online transactions is only going to
skyrocket.  “In 2030, we are imaging a
scenario where consumers are literally living and breathing digital,” said
Stephanie Davis, vice president, Google South-east Asia. “The digital decade in South-east Asia is here.”

The annual e-Conomy SEA Report – compiled by Google, Temasek and Bain and Co – estimates the e-commerce sector could pass US$120 billion in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) by the end of 2021 and reach US$234 billion by 2025.

“Eighty-two per cent of digital merchants shared with us that they
expect more than half of their sales to come from online and five years. If you
look at procurement, it’s 84%. We think that this is a really important signal
for the economy at large,” Davis said.

The report sheds light on the
internet economy over the next 10 years in Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and dives into trends across five
leading sectors ‒ e-commerce, online media, transport & food, online travel
and digital financial services, and two nascent sectors – healthtech and edtech.

The report’s title, the ‘Roaring
20s: The SEA Digital Decade’, points to a $1 trillion digital economy in the
region by 2030.

Its conclusion, in three words: Boom, boom, boom.

The e-commerce sector in SEA could pass US$120 billion in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) by the end of 2021 and reach US$234 billion by 2025. (Image credit: Andrey Suslov/ Getty Images)

About 10% to 15% of total
retail is traded online today and Google forecasts that this figure will rise
to 50% by 2030, driven by the online sectors of health, education and financial

The Covid pandemic has
accelerated the growth. Lockdown citizens went online to buy their clothes,
their pizza deliveries and – to a lesser extent – plan travel that they could
only dream about.

Since the pandemic began, the
region has added 60 million more digital consumers, 20 million of them of in
the first half, 2021.

And it doesn’t stop there.
More than one third of digital merchants, those B2C- focussed small businesses,
say they would have perished during the Covid pandemic but for the rise in the
number of people buying online. This number reached 43% of digital merchants in
Malaysia where business survival correlated closely with the severity of the
nation’s lockdowns.

In turn, the rush to digital
will increase the demand for tech-savvy talent, the report forecasts.

Going forward, digital
lending services are likely to grow due to an appetite for consumer financing
options and supply chain financing.

“Resilience has given way to
resurgence,” said Florian Hoppe, partner and head of digital practice in
Asia-Pacific, Bain & Company.

“The region has generated
tremendous investor interest over the past two years, and we believe the
‘roaring 20s’ will really put South-east Asia’s internet economy on the global
map, as it charts a unique growth path and reshapes all industry sectors in the

Hoppe says platforms that have driven this growth have built a strong infrastructure both on the payment side, where it’s mostly electronic and digital, but also the logistics side. “The battle now is really for depth and loyalty. You can see the game shifting to getting more transactions per consumer, building depth on the platform.”

Food delivery is the stand-out:

The home delivery food sector grew 33% y-o-y to reach $12 billion in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV). It has now become the most penetrated digital service, with 71% of all internet users ordering meals online at least once.

Philippines is the country to watch:

Indonesia contributed 40% of the region’s total GMV at US$70 billion; while the Philippines led with an impressive 93% growth to become a $17 billion digital economy. “We saw a huge surge in GMV in the Philippines, and also a number of other markets like Vietnam and Thailand, really growing into their own and continuing from strength to strength,” said Hoppe.

Grocery deliveries is the big mover.

The grocery sector is tipped to soar once cold chain logistics can catch up with demand. “We are particularly excited about online grocery, which historically has been under penetrated,” said Davis.

Gaming is gaining traction:

Gaming has seen a huge uplift during the pandemic, the report notes. A new generation of gamers has either entered gaming or rediscovered gaming during lockdowns.

Travel is the slow burner:

While online travel growth remains muted, the e-Conomy SEA report indicates travel is likely to see a recovery in the medium-to-long-term, driven by pent-up demand and the gradual easing of restrictions such as Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs).

Digital financial services speeds up:

Contrary to expectations, digital lending has not slowed down during the pandemic. The lending book in the region grew by 48% to US$39 billion. Digital investments have also seen strong growth.

The challenges:

While talent continues to be
an unresolved challenge, a set of emerging enablers that require multilateral
solutions between consumers, merchants, platforms, and regulators, will drive
the growth of SEA’s digital economy, Google says.

These enablers include a commitment to sustainability, robust and business-friendly data regulation, data infrastructure to support larger and more frequent data flows, as well as an equitable system to protect gig workers and consumer interests while spurring innovation.

“Managing this growth sustainably in the interest of all stakeholders will be a key mission for all ecosystem participants,” Hoppe said.

Featured image credit: metamorworks/Getty Images