Businesses should invest in a suitable and secure web presence to ensure success in the mushrooming online marketplace, says Mary Lüthy-Hui of Phnom Penh’s Web Essentials. Cambodia may lag behind its Southeast Asian neighbours in preparing for a regional e-commerce boom but domestic technology catch-up has been swift.
When Web Essentials first entered the market five years ago, few local businesses or organisations recognised the importance of maintaining a website—“and maybe they were right,” she concedes. Now, she says, a website gives businesses a larger target audience than a physical store and it is, increasingly, the cornerstone of every marketing campaign. “Depending on the type and size of your business, it is detrimental to your marketing if you do not have a strong and clear web presence.
Half-a-percent of Cambodians used the internet, at all, in 2010, but user numbers grew to almost one-third of the population last year, with access predominantly by smartphone. Online sources are now right behind television as the second main source of information for locals. Earlier in the year, the Wall Street Journal noted that, while Southeast Asians were late adopters of e-commerce with only one-in-four adults in the region buying goods online, growth was “inevitable”.
The Cambodian government is expected to pass an e-commerce law this year—the last Southeast Asian country to do so. Lüthy-Hui says that the law will facilitate online business, just as insiders have hoped.
Web presence: take control
Facebook is not enough. Lüthy-Hui says that while it is a great tool for marketers canny enough to leverage their audience with frequent posts advertising change, new products or services and discounts and events, it does not allow businesses to easily control what consumers see. “A post from last week will slowly move down the company’s timeline and will not be seen anymore,” she says. “The website should be the place where company and product information is stored and shared with customers.”
Businesses have a range of choices available to them, from simple, out-of-the-box websites for a couple of hundred dollars to a customised website solution, a significantly greater investment. Lüthy-Hui suggests that everyone serious about successfully migrating online first consider their business’s marketing strategy, what features their customers need, design friendliness and how the website or web product can be maintained in the long-term.
Companies should look out for developers who can bring together those aspects and walk them through the entire process. Web Essentials recently finished building a sophisticated and responsive online booking platform for a local tour operator so its customers could easily find relevant packages and reserve them. “I am positive that with this new platform, our client now can more effectively serve customers around the globe,” she says.
Change, challenges, opportunities
Lüthy-Hui is upbeat about opportunities in the tech sector generally. “The smartphone is quickly evolving to be our personal passport for almost everything,” she muses. “Western countries are far ahead with this development, but there are a lot of opportunities to catch up here in Cambodia.”
The passing of the e-commerce law will have a positive effect on the growth of the Cambodian virtual marketplace, she says. “Transactions over the web are not guaranteed and protected in Cambodia. Cambodia is cut off from any international online trading platforms, such as eBay. The new law will help to create a legal framework for businesses to participate in online transactions. It will increase confidence in transactions made through the internet, which will lead companies to invest more in user-friendly web platforms.” She says it will likely boost online payments via credit or debit cards, as well.
Despite international excitement, e-commerce still faces some in-country challenges. “Cambodians do not have the habit of using phones for internet banking. Though a few banks have introduced mobile banking, including ABA Bank, many [people] with smartphones still do not use it,” she says. Banks that want to bring online banking to Cambodia should expect a longer adoption phase for rolling out online or mobile banking. Web Essentials numbers ABA Bank as a client.
Security threats pose another challenge—and opportunity. Lüthy-Hui says that security concerns are often about data safety. “Risks can be mitigated with encrypted coding and databases, clear safety procedures and, also, a wise selection of hosting provider. My suggestion for businesses is to avoid cheap hosting services because, though the prices are attractive, they do not ensure the safety of the private data of your users.” She says that companies would also be wise not to share sensitive data such as passwords over email or messenger apps and services.
Recruiters in the sector need to take a creative and holistic approach, especially in Cambodia where the quality of education is not improving quickly enough. “Our recruitment process is rigorous and our standards are clear: we look for staff that demonstrate potential, flexibility, creativity in finding solutions, the courage to share ideas, diligence, and a commitment to excellence.”
Cambodia’s digital economy is currently worth $800 million, according to the president of Cambodia’s ICT Federation, Steven Path. Already popular Cambodian retailers include SnappyShop, Kaymu, Shop168 and MALL855.
Local retailers, take note: Alibaba, the world’s largest online retailer, paid $1 billion for a slice of regional online retail giant Lazada last April. Whether regional giant—aspiring regional giant—or mom-and-pop corner shop, businesses hoping to reap tangible benefits and survive in fact and on paper will have to consider their virtual impress.