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[Singapore] 2011: The Year Mobile Commerce Took Off

Singapore, as one of the most wired countries and a smartphone penetration rate at 70-percent, is uniquely positioned to embrace mobile commerce, asserts Elias Ghanem, managing director of PayPal Southeast Asia and India. At an event last week unveiling its Mobile Commerce in a Box solution targeted at small businesses, PayPal also released its "PayPal Insights: Mobile Commerce Innovation" report (conducted by market research company Nielsen), which explored data and trends on how mobile commerce is rapidly changing the way consumers in the island city shop and pay for products. I'll outline what I think are three important insights from the report:

1. Singapore's online commerce market to grow to a projected S$4.4 billion by 2015.

2011 saw Singapore's online commerce market growing 30% from S$1.1 billion in 2010 to S$1.4 billion last year. By 2015, this number is expected to hit S$4.4 billion. What's more significant, however, is that the total number of online shoppers grew a full 50% from 1.2 million shoppers to 1.8 million (at a rate far outstripping population growth), thereby increasing the total pool of online consumers beginning to wet their feet in online commerce. For brick-and-mortar business owners, this number should both be absolutely worrying as well as exciting in its opportunity. It also means that going online is no longer an option; it's necessary for business growth.

2. People buy all sorts of things online, but airline tickets, fashion and financial products/services lead.

It's expected that fashion and fashion accessories should top online commerce spending in Singapore... but it didn't. Airline tickets, by its sheer high ticket (pun fully intended) prices, topped online spending in Singapore at S$186 million, followed closely by fashion and accessories at S$152 million. What's perhaps surprising was that financial products and services came in at No.3, albeit much further behind at S$89 million. Travel packages (S$77 million) and books (S$62 million) round out the top five. You may read the data differently, but I reach two conclusions: (1) price is no longer an issue i.e. people have no issues paying for high ticket items online, and (2) convenience still triumphs.

3. Things are different for mobile commerce.

As compared to buying things online, people are more wary buying expensive products and services via the mobile phone. Fashion and accessories topped mobile commerce spending (smartphone + tablet devices) in Singapore at S$63 million, followed by movie tickets (S$48 million), books (S$40 million) and apps (S$33 million). Another related data point is that mobile commerce spending via tablet devices is growing significantly - for example, S$15 million of the S$33 million (over 45%) spent on apps are through tablet devices, and S$21 million of that S$48 million (over 40%) spent on movie tickets were similarly done through tablets. If I were a retailer looking to sell on alternative platforms, for example, an app developed specifically for mobile can make absolute business sense (it's no coincidence online fashion retailer ASOS has dedicated mobile applications).   But the data is pretty clear: 2011 looks to be the watershed year for online and mobile commerce in Singapore. With the launch of more online retail players like ASOS competitor Zalora Singapore, that S$4.4 billion projection for 2015 may look conservative indeed.

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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