Experiences on e-commerce and retail in the Philippines

I am currently traveling around the Philippines, great country, very nice people. As always I pay attention to retail and digital commerce as it is my hobby. I will describe a few experiences/pictures from what took my attention during my travel.

If you are in a hurry, then just watch the video, I made on retail and commerce in the Philippines, if you are not in a hurry, read the complete post for more details:

You can watch the same video at "rumble", if you prefer that platform.

Brandnames

Philippines love to play around with brand names, like the pictures you see below. You can spend an entire day enjoying funny brand names if you like.

 Yes, a real spabucks, SPAfoot!
 
And there we have Walter Mart, I guess that's has been the inspiration of the founder of Wall Mart. 
 
"John Lemon". Where you can buy everything Lennon :)


 

Super apps in Asia are awesome

The super apps that are used in most of SE Asia and China, also work very smoothly here. I used Grab, Joyride, AirAsia and probably I will need to use LalaMove also soon.These apps I really miss in Europe.

It is so incredibly convenient to use these super apps. You can get things done so fast and so easy.

As Grab says in an interview I read, they are problem solvers: "The model has proven successful, in part because Grab’s engineers are focused on problems that people face in real-life settings, or genba in Japanese. The company has helped millions of users open their first bank account, offered micro-loans to hundreds of thousands of its driver-partners, and helped grow their earnings on the Grab platform over time."

 

 
Super Apps are Amazing, very convenient, see these short screen recordings.
  
Using super apps is fun. So many options, but easy to be found 
Super apps are full, no,  completely full of services, but still easy to use.

Just a few things in the super apps that caught my attention:

  • Priority delivery of food, pay a little extra, get priority delivery, if it does not arrive at the time that is given, you will be given vouchers.
  • An advertising block, where (in my case) often Lazada advertised.
  • The 20% (or sometimes more discount) on self pickup, combined with special "self pickup lines" in stores for example coffee shops or fashion shops.
  • The Pabili function, you can let someone pickup and deliver something. Can be anything up to medicine, groceries or just things you need to send to a company or person.
  • Constant influx of new functionalities. The apps are blasting with new functionalities. Often you can signup for them (so they can test demand I guess), but the thing is, there is always a reason to use the app.
  • FACE, checking in by facial recognition for Air Asia flights. Saves a lot of hassle.
  • It is always possible to get direct help via chat, I tried it a few times, always solved my problem.
  • Countless smart cross and up sell possibilities that are either not used in the west or not possible because the service is not available.
  • The loyalty programmes are setup in a smart and easy way. Rewards all over the apps.
  • The "challenges" function is like a prize draw, but then more interactive, it gives tasks (like ordering food), gives a clear overview of the things you need to do, and in the end you can win (for example) a Dyson cleaner. They clearly indicate the amount of Dyson's that can be won. It's like a project in your app to complete. 
  • Despite the many topics, it's easy to either search or navigate to the  main categories. Just to give an example of the main categories in Grab, there is:
    Food, Mart, Car, Mov It, Express, Pabili, Load, Bills, Shopping, Gifts, Offers, Experiences, Hotels, Challenges and Insurances. They are all easily accessible on the tiny screen.
  • I needed to have something delivered to another location. Its so easy to just arrange a point to point delivery, someone just picks up the stuff and brings it over to the desired location.

Super apps are so much fun to use. In my opinion they really are an economic activity booster and they actively help develop the country.
 
The prize draw is like a project in the Grab app

 

Retail experience: Shopping malls

Just like in other countries in Asia, mega shopping malls are very popular. Not only they all have a large food court with cheap and good food, there is also always something to do, - a reason to visit-.
Shopping malls always have a convenient temperature, and that alone is a reason for many Philippino's to spend a few hours in a shopping mall, to beat the heat outside.
 
There are two very large companies that have shopping malls across the country. SM supermalls and Ayala malls. I visited both, I found that SM supermalls has a bit more multi/omnchannel promotions and customer journeys compared to the Ayala malls, but both are nice to visit and totally complete shopping malls. 
 
During a walk in one of the SM supermalls, I saw, a startup corner.
This is so nice to help young startups test their products and services in a shopping mall with a huge amount of traffic. As a visitor it is nice to discover unique products.
I know there is a separate mall, BIKINI Mall in Berlin that is dedicated to this concept, but this is the first time I have seen something similar elsewhere mixed with other shops.
 
The startup market in SM supermall

 
Although I like the large experience type of shopping malls, my personal favorite, are shopping malls, like shoppesville/greenhills. A shopping mall with less known brands, and countless little shops that sell almost everything and often have very funny brand names.
Shoppesville in Manila, can be compared with MBK in Bangkok. There are lot's of food options, usually a floor dedicated to electronics and so many little "stalls" and shops, worth a visit.

The Mall of Asia

Manila has the country's top shopping mall: The Mall of Asia
 
I have been twice to the Mall of Asia or in short MOA, during this holiday. Although I have been to similar shopping malls in Dubai and Bangkok for example, this one seemed in terms of size maybe even larger. 
 
The mall of Asia in Manila is so incredibly huge it does not even fit on a picture

The mall of Asia is so huge I couldn't get it fit in one picture. It boosts 589,891 m2. It has several cinema's, a waterfront (amusement) park, an indoor skating rink (Olympic size), local brands, foreign brands, and really, really lot's of food options, the most I ever saw in a shopping mall.

SM shopping malls in the Philippines also broadcast regularly live events from their locations via their app and their website. It is then possible to do both an on, offline or combined purchase. If you order online and you live in an area near a shopping mall there is same day delivery. Haven't seen that in Europe.

Inside the mall, they also have their own SM branded stores.

A few suggestions for improvements:

  • Make a guided route (online at least but preferably a combination) to pass all local brand shops. It is -as a tourist- nice to visit local brands, not only to buy them but sometimes also to source them.
  • Because of its size it also helps to have high speed escalators, that skip a few floors. Makes it possible to get to your destination faster (f.e. the ice skate rink) I saw this in a shopping mall in Shanghai and a super escalator is really convenient.
  • Integrate on and offline (also for tourists). Create a PWA (progressive web app) that you can use when you visit the mall. It helps you to find your way around. And do include suggestion one, the local brand route, but maybe also an offer route, experience route, or simply let it generate vouchers to use at this specific mall, after registration. Both vendor and visitor profit.
  • Manila's traffic is so bad, that as a tourist it can be quite a hassle to get there if you do not want to take a taxi. Why not have several times a day a direct bus from the main tourist centers to the mall, Makati and Bonifacio high street.
    I was alone, so I just took a motorbike taxi via joyride on my way in the first time. The second time, I took public transport. First a motorbike taxi to the MRT, then wait in line there to buy tickets, then go to TAFT terminal station and from there there is no signage or posting, where to go, in the end I figured out which jeepney to take and then you are indeed in 10 minutes at the mall. But I would not recommend this route if you are there with children. Taft station is very chaotic and jeepneys very crowded.

Kultura is a shop with local products. Great for unique souvenirs or to get inspiration for product sourcing for your webshop. This picture I made in the mall of asia.

 

So many opportunities to help shopping malls like this or retail experiences, like this with user stories /use cases, to improve the experience for tourists (and locals a like). But often, for tourists, the customer journeys can really be improved. I see so many things during traveling that are unclear for tourists, both digitally and physically.

So how to compare the retail experience in the Philippines with other regional destinations? 

  • Compared to China the payment processes are much easier to process. Here it happened to me a few times that some payment methods were not accepted, despite indicated on the front door, it happened to me with Bitcoin and Grab pay. 
  • Compared to China the transportation to the retail destinations takes more effort. In China everywhere there is very good and cheap public transport, often directly into a mall. Here you really have to take some effort. Same goes in comparison with Singapore, Tokyo and to a certain level Bangkok.
    But I am sure the Philippines are working hard on improving that.
  • Lower end shopping malls are quite similar to those found in for example Shenzhen or MBK (Bangkok), or Ho Chi Minh City. Lot's of little stalls and vendors with all kinds of (fake) products. Always fun to shop in these venues, only here often cash is the main form of payment, while in China you can always use Wechat or Alipay, always, everywhere even in Tier 5 cities.

 

Sari-Sari shops

A post on Philippine retail would not be complete without mentioning sari-sari shops. There are countless sari-sari shops in the Philippines. These are small local community shops, often connected to a house.
They sell basic goods, usually in small sachets and sometimes have a tiny restaurant as well.
It is estimated that these small shops add up to 13% of GDP.
Modernizing sari-sari stores is also happening, with companies like GrowSari or Happinoy.
And I think it is something a similar to what Alibaba is doing in China with the local mom and pop stores there.
It's very nice to read that there is help for the countless sari-sari shops to make a step into modernization. Some of the will grow to large business, I am sure of that. Even now, you see huge differences between the tiny shops, even in the same street or block.


Usually the name of the shop owner is directly on the sari sari sign so you have directly a conversation starter.
Close to my hotel there were also a few sari sari shops. One evening I came back the city, passed the sari-sari shop close to my hotel and wanted to buy some water.
This sari sari shop had 3 chairs in front of the shop. On one, a guy is playing a traditional Philippine guitar, I think it is called Buktot, while the other chair is occupied by a guy working at his laptop and now the third one is occupied by me. That felt good, a direct connection between customers, shop owner and environment. It's that kind of feeling that makes it unique. 


Payment preferences

Salary in the Philippines is paid two times a month. The salary level is still low, this also (partly) explains why you can buy on credit everywhere and also why many people here, prefer to buy "small amounts".  

Different from China, where it is either cash (a little) or WeChat pay or Alipay (or now the e-yuan) the payment ecosystem in the Philippines is quite broad. Many shops have a lot of different payment methods that they accept (or sometimes not when you ask).

Compared to China, that is known for the massive savings that households have, I got the feeling that is much less in the Philippines, much more is bought on credit and saving is not on top of people's list.


Cash is still very important, but also as written above, to buy on credit with for example G-Cash, I have seen that also at many places even in restaurants.
GrabPay or PayMaya online payment methods are increasingly popular. Although my experience so far is that outside the big cities GrabPay isn't really accepted a lot and even inside the big cities, sometimes they refused my GrabPay payment request.

I also noted that people (as happens more often in Asia, I used this service myself also regularly in China) use convenience stores to pay their utilities or other payments.

There are everywhere also countless top up options as many people use prepaid services.


Many shops have lot's of payment options


Top and and pay in store for everything :) 
 
It is worth mentioning that at Boracay, pouch.ph is doing a great job to introduce bitcoin payments or payments via the bitcoin rail, on the island. Local vendors, receive pesos. 
You can read more about my experiences there here.

With around 2 million Filipino's working abroad and sending money back home every month for extraordinary fee's there is now great news, as Strike has started in the Philippines. Now it is possible to send dollars and let them convert to pesos for almost no fee's via the bitcoin rail. 
That saves hundreds of millions in fee's annually, money receivers in the Philippines can very much use. Who knows, strike may in the future not only be a money transfer service but also a (cross border) payment service at local shops.

Most popular web shops in the Philippine

It is estimated that the e-commerce market will grow from 12 billion USD in 2021 to 22 billion in 2025.
It is unclear (couldn't find data) if these are only direct online transctions or also transactions that are a combination between on and offline.
In the Philippines the platform Shopee is a very large platform and one of the most visited webshops in terms of traffic. 
Shopee is famous for it's consumer to consumer business model, but currently also has a b2c business model. 
Lazada, another south east asian giant has a lot of traffic as well in the Philippines. Lazada is also famous for "Lazmall" where it is a 100% guarantee that authentic products are bought. If it isn't you receive your money back double! Lazmall also is very active on live streaming and live chat. 
Zalora is the fashion and lifstyle shop here and also based in Singapore (just like Shopee).
Galleon is a special one to mention, they focus on hard to get products in the Philippines. 
Metrodeal has a lot of traffic as well. It is a discount shop for products and services. 

As mentioned earlier in this blog post, a lot of transaction also go via the super apps, like grab. You can easily get someone to get groceries for you or anything you like from a physical shop.
 
I did see a lot of advertisement on 500mb download speed internet subscriptions. Also in some places I have been, I actually had a download speed around that number. This will probably also boast commerce. 
 
I couldn't so far find out a lot more here on online shopping behavior, I tried to contact some local experts, but they didn't reply so far and as I am also having holiday I don't take time to call or email all day.

FB Messenger

Facebook and facebook messenger are incredibly popular. I quit facebook long ago and I also don't want to use FB messenger, but here in the Philippines I had no choice then to re-activate it -temporarily-.
I tried to contact the taxi driver who very decently brought me to and from the airport, wanted to give him a return ride. But only accessible via FB messenger, not even whatsapp.
The little company for the video tape conversions, only FB messenger.
Even SM shopping malls, have-I think really nice- a digital shopping buddy, but only available on messenger.
So annoying for me, but on the other hand it is also what makes things fun and interesting those differences. Probably lot's of opportunities in FB advertising here as well.
WeChat in China is also hardly used in other countries but it is the king of the super apps and works very well, once you get the hand of it.
 
Here an ad in a shopping mall to get a shopping buddy online

Outdoor advertising

I didn't see a lot of digital outdoor billboards, as you would see in some other Asian countries. Mostly I noticed old school outdoor advertising via (huge) billboards, like here at this picture I took from a tricycle.
You see a grab food delivery man, maybe even with some crispy fried chicken, as displayed on the billboard in his delivery box.
Only place I saw a very limited amount of digital billboards was in Makati, especially near the airport.

Outdoor advertising in Manila

Sim card registration in the Philippines

If you want to use the internet in the Philippines to do some remote work, many coffee shops or public WiFi are using a captive portal. A page you have to login to with your phone number.
Of course this is highly annoying. Captive portals are already annoying, giving often problems with VPN services or connection issues, but the need to register which also is only possible for a month at one time for a tourist, is even more annoying.

The background is (and from that perspective understandable) that many Filipino's that work overseas are often scammed. Remittance money is a big thing here. So it's important that this money arrives safely in the Philippines.

Now the interfaces for the registration of your sim card is a bit of a hassle, especially if you use your phone. You need to provide screenshots and pictures. It involves a lot of  switching windows.
It is not possible to register a sim card without giving many details. You need to provide:

  • Proof of flying out (plane ticket f.e.)
  • Make a selfie
  • Proof of address (can just be your fist hotel, but that isn't clearly explained.
  • Make a picture of your passport (complete with all details).

Now this is not working smoothly. It takes some frustration. For example this below, this is the mobile interface of the globe (my sim card) registration page. It requests you to upload a selfie. Pressing button activates the camera and lets you make a selfie. However it is impossible to upload, as only 4mb is accepted. Modern phones create much higher quality pictures.

Now I managed to bypass it by the use of the desktop version, but not everyone would think of such bypass.
Also you need to make so many screenshots, and you need to switch between windows.

So why not make sim card registration much easier for foreigners?

One needs to register already on this page, if you come over here, and you need to provide there also your passport and flight details.
Just make a simple checkbox on this page at the end of the process with "do you plan to buy a local sim card?" if a user clicks on it, it provides a code.
When the user is in the Philippines , buys a sim card and registers it online, all that is needed is to provide the new phone number, the code and a passport picture. The latter is I think unfortunately still needed to prove the person is the one who also received the code.

Maybe in the future with e-sims and facial recognition this will be all easier.

They are on the right track

What I find is that some areas really have been upgraded in Manila and feel very modern, sometimes almost a Shanghai feeling.
Bonifacio High street for example, made me feel of Xintiandi in Shanghai, large skyscrapers combined with lot's of shopping and entertainment, and a light warm breezy wind in your hair in the middle of a concrete jungle.
 
I visited the clark freeport zone, it is a massive , massive area, a former US military base, that is now being transformed into an industrial zone, with shops, entertainment, houses, an airport and much more.
 
More and more development and modernization is visible, when you walk the streets.
Compared to Vietnam, Thailand, it might lack (a little) behind, but they are on the right track. It will be transformed hugely in the next few years.

Transport is a big issue here, to get to shopping malls is often not easy or fun, and mostly always requires a taxi or other mean of transport in too crowded traffic.
Public transport is available but too crowded, or it has other obstacles.
Often there is no alternative then waiting in traffic Even compared to Thailand (where traffic is also an issue), here in Manila it is (much) worse.
I have noticed lot's of development on the transport part including a new rail link in Metro Manila and in collaboration with Japan, many new metro lines will be build in the near future.
 
The newspaper in my hotel told me new subways are on the way


 
Internet speed is moderate, not so stable, not on my cell phone, and not in the city, even in metro Manila. Thailand has a more stable connection and faster.
I do however see ads everywhere for 100mbit lines, so I think they are rapidly improving that, even in small villages. But for now, my experience is, that it is not stable and not fast at most places. I had some difficulty video calling due to that.
 
As I was sitting in the hotel lobby, waiting for my grab ride, I read the newspaper, that tells me that Philippines really makes an effort in digital upskilling, nice to read and would be great to help out on that.
 
Digital upskilling in the Philippines

 


I didn't see any (special) flagship or concept stores, like you would find in Shanghai, London or New York.
 
I do like all the entrepreneurship everywhere, it is always busy, always something open, always something to do everyone is trying to make a business. The nice part is also that many business work both on and offline and combined.
 
I have seen strange, but not so strange combination of businesses. It looks like everyone is a businessman. Like the laundry service, that also is a tea hub (although when I asked for a nice cup of green tea, they said they didn't have it today).
 
 
The other day I also so a car washing shop, that combines as a a hamburger restaurant.
 
What is a good experience is that shopping or commerce here, connects people. If I use Grab to get myself a motorbike taxi, I get connected to someone, we talk, we drive.
If I go to a sari sari shop, I can just relax there, sit and talk, enjoy the conversations. Get a connection.
If I buy something from someone with a very small shop or even from a shop connected to a bike, you interact take time, and usually buy more then you planned to do.
And it doesn't matter when or what time.That's what makes it promising and an experience.
 
More then in Europe, I saw possibilities to use a phone to skip the line(s), especially in restaurants. The combination between on and offline seems to be a bit ahead here.
 
Skip the line by phone ordering

 

As always many places in Asia makes me feel alive, it's bustling, there is always something to do and lot's of things going on. Philippines is no exception on this.

Thanks for reading, just reach out if you have any question or remark.

Alex Baar

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