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Online shopping is exploding across Southeast Asian markets however there is still a long way to go in Cambodia, which ranked 122nd out of 152 countries for its e-commerce readiness in a report issued last month by the UN agency UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development).

The global e-commerce spend is vast, totalling $525 billion for cosmetics and beauty products alone in 2018, with a further $393 billion on electronics and physical media, $386 billion on DIY and hobbies, $273 billion on furniture and appliances and $210 billion on food and personal care.

Southeast Asian countries have some of the highest levels of e-commerce adoption in the world. And in 2018, the annual value of that market exceeded $50 billion across the region, reflecting growth of more than 20%. As a result, e-trade already accounts for almost 3% of South East Asia’s GDP, and Google projects that this will rise to 8% by 2025. However, it is still a small percentage of a very large pie and plenty of obstacles remain.

But first the good news. There is huge potential for online shopping in Cambodia, and the trend is clearly catching on notwithstanding some of the structural issues that remain. According to Alexa, an SEO and competitor analysis platform, Amazon has now moved into the top 20 websites used in Cambodia, while Aliexpress now occupies position No. 33. Other sites, such as health.com.kh and Codashop, also offer products for sale even though their primary goal might be something else, such as the provision of advice about personal healthcare, or their market more niche.

But the omens are good. Cambodia’s middle class is continuing to grow, and more people now have a bank account (22% in 2018), while a growing number has a mobile money account. Interestingly, at 0.8% of the population, more women than men (0.4%) have a credit card, however apps such as WeChat have helped to bypass the need for traditional banking services such as this.

And while 76% of the population is connected to the internet, 88% of that via their phone, less than 4% of them use their phone to make purchases, or pay their bills online.

And what do they buy? Mostly clothes and shoes, according to one report, which found that 12% of the clothes and shoes sold in Cambodia are sold online. White goods also feature, with 4% of those being sold online, with 1% of fast food, laundry, personal hygiene products also making the cut. There is scope for so much more, but what are the barriers?

The principal barrier identified in the UNCTAD report is poor postal services, an obviously key factor in facilitating online trade. However, other reports suggest that the problems are not just a lack of demand, owing to a lack of financial access. One report suggested that 38% of Cambodians say they are ready for buying goods online, however another report gives the country a low ranking for offering the services that would meet that demand. Other obstacles to access (from both supply and demand perspectives) include slow internet speed.

Nonetheless, with the demand clearly present, even the government has got in on the act when they backed the launch Tinh Tinh, an online marketplace. According to its developers, Tinh Tinh offers a comprehensive and integrated set of online services, though we would suggest being very wary of any suggestions to upgrade or download Flash Player if you are on the site if you do not want pornography appearing on your computer alongside random downloads of Skyscanner and booking.com.

In Thailand, companies such as L’Oréal are experimenting with online sales via Facebook, which seems like a very positive way forward for Cambodia given that 8.4 million of the Kingdom’s 12.5 million connected users are signed up to the social media platform, eclipsing all the others.

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