Go online, and stay agile, to grow in Asia

Go online, and stay agile, to grow in Asia

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Key takeaways

Despite global economic conditions, Asia’s outlook for 2017 remains positive, largely thanks to e-commerce and growing trade integration in the region.

“Doubling down” on customer service and innovation will help Asian enterprises ride out any rough patches and maintain steady growth.

Businesses can make themselves more agile by paring off secondary processes to trusted partners and focusing on customer care instead.

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How can Asian businesses take advantage of 2017’s global uncertainty?

With 2016 behind us, what can businesses expect this year? More of the same, according to DHL’s leaders in Asia Pacific – but with a notable number of increasingly bright spots, due to a combination of technology and freer trade.

“We’re expecting to see continued economic uncertainty around the world in 2017,” says Ken Lee, CEO of DHL Express Asia Pacific, “but that could actually work out for the benefit of businesses in Asia. Intra-regional growth has begun to strengthen despite growing protectionism in other parts of the world, thanks to greater integration of trade blocs like ASEAN and the rise of South Asia to complement China’s steady growth.

“Asia’s star is rising again, even as others might begin to wane.”

Much of that upside will come from e-commerce, with no signs that Asian consumers are slowing down on their online purchases. The opposite, in fact. “The Asia Pacific region is growing faster than any other when it comes to e-commerce adoption and purchase volumes, particularly cross-border transactions,” says Malcolm Monteiro, CEO of DHL eCommerce Asia Pacific. 

For Alfred Goh, President of Fast Growing Enterprises and Regional Head of DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation in Asia Pacific, e-commerce offers even the smallest businesses in Asia a quick and low-cost way to punch above their weight, especially in markets with intense domestic competition. “Penetrating new markets forms much of the growth agenda for companies in Asia,” says Goh. “One way to continue their accelerated growth is to start looking beyond their home base where they already enjoy good wallet share.”

That’s not to say that e-commerce offers Asian businesses a shortcut to growth – far from it. As more and more local and overseas competitors vie for market share in Asia Pacific, one thing will determine which businesses survive or thrive: how they treat their customers. More than 2 in every 3 abandoned e-commerce carts occur because consumers aren’t satisfied with the delivery options on offer. And 41% of Asian shoppers find that delivery times and costs prevent them from buying online as much as they’d like to.

Asia’s star is rising again, even as others might begin to wane.

Delivering the goods – and good experiences

As businesses look to jump onto the e-commerce bandwagon, the art of delivering a good customer experience should not be neglected. “Every year should be the year of the customer, but 2017 more than most,” says Lee, citing the increase in competition that retailers face from not only local, but intra-regional players thanks to e-commerce and decreasing trade barriers. That makes service and customer care, tailored to the individual, the most powerful ways for businesses to differentiate themselves and gain long-term loyalty.

“Consumers already have endless product options and instant access to information,” says Lee. “Now they want not more variety, but less. Businesses need to personalize products and experiences, and deliver them quickly and precisely to demand, if they want to really make an impression on their customers.”

That does not just apply to individual consumers: B2B transactions will benefit from a greater emphasis on customer service as well. “With 2017 market conditions looking pretty uncertain and challenging, the best way to grow will be to double down on service quality and innovation,” says Kelvin Leung, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding Asia Pacific. “Business leaders need to understand their buyers’ unspoken preferences and not just meet, but exceed them in order to attain the greatest growth and returns possible.”

That same approach has percolated all parts of DHL in Asia Pacific, including the development of new products that allow greater customization of where and when consumers receive their shipments. Those front-end innovations have also prompted significant investment in greater supply chain integration and last-mile coverage, intended to quite literally deliver on what businesses promise their customers.

“There’s still a huge market gap in many parts of Asia when it comes to delivery convenience,” says Monteiro. “We’ll be doing our best to fill it with increasingly customizable and integrated fulfillment services.”

Don’t get caught standing still

For Lee, change will be the only constant for businesses in 2017. “Embrace digital technology if you want to thrive, but don’t forget to align it to customer requirements,” he advises. “Digital is only the tool: its value comes from the adaptability it can bring to your business.”

“We all need to be more agile and open to changes if we want to grow in 2017,” agrees Leung. “Businesses should think about the long term: sustainable growth is far better than a big expansionary push which can’t be maintained.”

With 2017 market conditions looking pretty uncertain and challenging, the best way to grow will be to double down on service quality and innovation

Most businesses in Asia now rank factors like political stability higher than growing consumer demand when planning to enter new regional markets, suggesting greater overall caution in plans to expand. Selecting the right partner for growth hence plays a major role. Having trustworthy partners with strong existing regional networks can further lower those risks and ensure businesses stay nimble even as they grow. Additionally, collaborative partnerships can help speed up access to new markets while also reducing the risks of expanding too far or too fast. This accountability between partners actually improves agility rather than hampering it.

“Every business should focus on building closer relationships with their customers,” Monteiro concludes. “The more you can channel secondary processes like supply chain and IT management to your partners, the more attention you’ll have to invest in selling, expanding, and innovating. Businesses which do that will grow fast in 2017, no matter what the market throws at them.”

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