From Clicks to Cart: The Rise of Social Commerce in APAC

We take a look at the transformative impact of social commerce in APAC, exploring the unique conditions fuelling its meteoric growth.

Within Southeast Asia, social commerce transcends mere convenience, embedding itself into daily digital interactions. The population navigates through brands and products with a social-first approach, their purchasing decisions significantly influenced by the digital endorsements found in online communities. 

The growing popularity of social commerce in the APAC region heralds a broader paradigm shift, pointing towards a future where shopping is not just a transaction but an integrated, social experience - especially post-pandemic.

We take a look at the evolution of social commerce in APAC, and the trends that are setting the scene on the path to purchase.

The Social Commerce Landscape in APAC

Accounting for more than half of the world’s social media users, APAC is no stranger to social commerce. The social commerce market in APAC will witness a compound annual growth rate of approximately 10.6% between 2022 and 2028, with the market size expected to surpass $894mn by 2028. This expansion is fuelled by the region's rapid digitalisation and the integration of e-commerce functionalities into social platforms.

Consumer behaviour in APAC in general heavily leans towards mobile shopping, with over 70% of internet users in Southeast Asia opting to purchase via smartphones, underscoring the region's readiness for social commerce. Influencer marketing further amplifies this trend, with studies indicating that more than 50% of consumers in the region have made purchases based on social media influencer recommendations. The demand for seamless, instant purchasing options is evident, with a notable percentage of consumers expressing a preference for buying directly through social media platforms, valuing the convenience and immediacy these platforms offer.

TikTok, along with WeChat, Instagram, and Facebook, spearhead this transformative wave. TikTok, in particular, has capitalised on its massive user base, reporting over 1 billion active users globally, with a significant portion from the APAC region. Namely, over 500 million users in the Asia-Pacific region, not including China and India.

TikTok on Top

TikTok Shop has emerged as a significant player in the social commerce landscape of the APAC region. The platform's approach to social commerce - whereby users discover products through viral content, influencers, and livestreams - has not only transformed traditional online shopping paradigms but also significantly contributed to the digital economy in APAC.

In countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, for example, TikTok Shop has capitalised on high mobile penetration rates and a growing appetite for online shopping, providing small and medium-sized enterprises unprecedented access to a broader market. The platform uniquely integrates creators and Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) into its ecosystem, pioneering "shoppertainment" offerings. Unlike its peers, ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, swiftly capitalised on this blend of shopping and entertainment, setting a new precedent for e-commerce on social media platforms.

Factors Fuelling the Meteoric Growth

There are a number of variables unique to the region that are contributing to the momentous rise in social commerce’s popularity in the APAC region.

In particular, the surge in smartphone adoption, coupled with widespread mobile internet access, has significantly boosted mobile commerce's growth across the Asia-Pacific region. Social media has emerged as a favoured channel for online shopping - in China, there are already more than 800 million individuals engaging in shopping through social media platforms, and over half of the consumers in Southeast Asia have expressed interest in participating in social commerce.

Also adding fuel to the social commerce fire is the merging of marketing and transactions, which is present all across the region. In South Korea, for example, the integration of marketing and transactions is evident through platforms like KakaoTalk, which combines messaging with payment and shopping features, and the widespread adoption of mobile payment solutions like Samsung Pay. 

Indonesia's digital market is experiencing rapid growth, driven by a surge in e-commerce and the adoption of digital payment platforms. Key players like Tokopedia, Shopee, and Lazada leverage integrated marketing tools - such as flash sales and influencer partnerships - to directly drive transactions. This also includes the rise of digital wallets, including GoPay and OVO, which offer promotional campaigns that encourage immediate purchasing actions. 

In China, social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin have transcended their original purpose of facilitating social interactions, evolving into dynamic centers for commerce. By streamlining the purchasing process directly through the social media interface, companies have the potential to improve conversion rates and increase sales.

Gen Z and Conversational Commerce

Within the digital marketplace of Asia-Pacific, the rise of superfandom and Gen Z’s spearheading of this phenomenon cannot be ignored. Falling into the category of conversational commerce, the symbiotic role of celebrities and consumers emerges as a pivotal catalyst in the proliferation of social commerce, with studies indicating that 65% of consumers in the region are more likely to purchase products endorsed by their favourite influencers. This fervent support by fans for their favourite brands and influencers transcends traditional consumer engagement, morphing into a significant driver of purchasing decisions and trends.

South Korea’s K-Pop serves as a prime example of this dynamic, where the industry not only produces global music sensations but also pioneers in integrating fandom into social commerce strategies. BTS recently teamed up with VT Cosmetics, unleashing a BTS-themed beauty line that soared in sales thanks to a fan-powered blitz. Leveraging social media, BTS and fans turned posts, reviews, and challenges into a sales juggernaut, showcasing the force of super fandom in turbocharging social commerce success.

What Lies Ahead?

The social commerce boom in APAC is undeniable. From live-streaming sales in China to community-driven buying in Indonesia, the region is a hotbed of innovation.

Emerging trends are exciting: hyper-localisation with influencers, AR/VR product experiences driven by new technologies, and gamified shopping journeys blurring the lines between entertainment and purchase.

Challenges loom, too. Logistics complexities across diverse markets need solutions, and ensuring seamless omnichannel experiences will be crucial.

APAC's social commerce future isn't just about buying; it's about building connections, fostering communities, and integrating this with existing channels to give customers a seamless and joyful experience.

Alin Dobrea, head of marketing solutions & partnerships, ZALORA

As I explore the evolving landscape of social commerce in 2024, especially here in the APAC region, I’m witnessing a transformation. Imagine this scenario: while scrolling through my social feed, I stumble upon a live cooking demo, featuring a unique kitchen gadget popular in Asia. I can purchase it instantly. This fusion of shopping and entertainment, which is known as 'Shoppertainment', is not only interactive but also deeply rooted in our local culture.

Navigating the vast online marketplace can be daunting, but influencers in the APAC region have become trusted shopping companions. They're not just showcasing products; they're curating experiences and suggestions that resonate with local preferences and lifestyle. 

Most heartening is the shift towards community-driven commerce in the APAC region. I am part of a collective voice where our feedback and choices shape the market offerings. This isn't just shopping; it's contributing to a community that's molding the future of fashion and lifestyle, keeping our unique regional identity at the forefront.

Ionut Danifeld, chief marketing officer, TRAPO Malaysia