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eCommerce in Myanmar 6 months into Covid19 - A closer look

A silver lining for local startups

by Soe Lin Myat

[Disclaimer] I am a co-founder of Kyarlay.com, an omnichannel specialty platform for mum and baby products in Myanmar. Our investors include Garena, EME and UMJ. This post is my personal opinion and may not reflect the views of my company and the investors. I would like to thank Ko Mike Than Tun Win and Matt Viner for sharing their views, and Ko Kyaw Myo Thet and Ko Min Min for sharing the growth information about their businesses.

I wrote a blog post on the prospect of local eCommerce startups back in April when the first Covid19 case emerged in Myanmar. Since then Myanmar has conquered the first wave and is now fighting against the second wave. The number of confirmed cases has spiked during the past few weeks and most parts of Yangon are back under Stay-At-Home (aka Lockdown).1 There is no hiding that the Covid19 situation is severe. My first post in April reflected that. However, after 6 months into the outbreak, it is heartening to see that there is a silver lining for local eCommerce startups. Despite the second wave, my opinion on the prospect of local eCommerce startups has markedly improved and it is time to write a follow-up piece to reflect that.

Increased Adoption of eCommerce

While we expected Covid19 to accelerate eCommerce when it first hit Myanmar in March, we were uncertain of how much it would benefit the existing eCommerce players due to the lack of logistic infrastructure in Myanmar. Since then, eCommerce players and logistic partners have overcome various obstacles to meet the increased demand.

Kyarlay Online Sale
Monthly Online Completed Sale at Kyarlay.com

Marathon Myanmar,  a leading logistic startup in Myanmar, has reported 20% quarterly growth in parcel deliveries since the first outbreak.2 Door2Door, a food delivery service, also saw a 20% increase in orders. We have also seen a rapid growth at Kyarlay. While the first wave lasted just a month from 23 March to 26 April with the peaked 131 active cases,3 our monthly online sale doubled between February and August at Kyarlay.

If we look at the Covid19 effect on eCommerce globally, we also see a similar trend. Sea nearly doubled Q2 Revenue as Shopee reached US$ 8 billion in GMV.4 Delivery Hero, the parent company of Food Panda, also hit the milestone of 4 million orders delivered in a single day.5 While Covid19 lays waste to the public health and the economy, it acts as a change agent to catalyze the adoption of eCommerce both in Myanmar and globally.

Active Covid19 Cases
Active Covid19 cases in Myanmar (taken from worldmeters.com on 12 Sept 2020)

Recently, the active Covid19 cases have risen again from 39 on 19 August to 1,903 on 12 September due to a second wave. Despite the Stay-At-Home order and other measures from the government to flatten the curve, the second wave is expected to continue strongly for a foreseeable future. Referring to the Spanish flu, which raged from 1918 to 1920, the second wave was more severe than the first.6 We already see that effect in other countries such as Australia which has been under lockdown since 9 July.7 If we compare the first wave to a water gun, the second wave seems like a tsunami. We expect it to last longer and have a larger effect on the eCommerce landscape in Myanmar. With lockdown and necessity for social distancing, eCommerce has a natural role to play in combating the second wave of Covid19.

Fight Against Yangtze Crocodiles

In my first post in April, I have compared Yangtze crocodiles to the regional operators with more experience and deep pockets. The existing regional operators in Myanmar such as Grab, Food Panda, and Shop.com.mm have been growing strongly amid Covid19. Both Grab and Food Panda have added "shops" to their platforms for the on-demand delivery of daily-use products. Shop.com.mm has been expanding their official stores in collaboration with brand owners. It has also recently kicked off 9.9 Super Sale with discounts on 100,000+ items from more than 5,000 brands.8 Food Panda has also been offering free deliveries since its debut on 21 January.9

Despite these activities from the regional operators, the local startups have also been growing strongly. Since the start of the Covid19 outbreak, Food2U, a food delivery service in competition with Grab and Food Panda, has started a B2B fulfillment service to provide on-demand last-mile delivery for retailers to meet the growing online demands. Ko Kyaw Myo Thet, the founder of Food2U, expects the fulfillment handled by his team to exceed 1,000 orders a day within next 3 months.

According to Ko Min Min, the COO and the founding team member of Barlolo.com, an online eCommerce platform in competition with Shop.com.mm, online transactions have grown 25% since the Covid19 outbreak in March. Ko Min Min said, "The majority of growth comes from food and groceries, but we are also seeing growth in fashion and cosmetics because people start trying to come online to buy things. There is also an increased interest from merchants to sell on our platform."

Making the Best of Covid19 Crisis

Since the first Covid19 outbreak in late March, local startups have been adapting to the rapidly changing needs of the market. While Food2U started a new B2B fulfilment service, Barlolo.com added food and groceries categories. These moves have since become major growth drivers for both startups.

At Kyarlay, we have set up 2 more fulfilment centers (total 4) at strategic locations. This has allowed us to provide the same day delivery to 28 out of 33 townships in Yangon. Despite the rapid increase in demand, we have maintained the service level, measured by the Net Promote Score (NPS). A score between 30 and 70 is considered great, while a score above 70 means customers love the service and the company is generating a lot of positive word-of-mouth.10 We have maintained a score above 70 for the past 4 months. In comparison, Amazon.com's NPS is 62.11

Net Promoter Score of Kyarlay
Net Promoter Score of Kyarlay between Feb and August 2020

Matt Viner, the Investment Manager of EME said, "Myanmar is a market that has been slow to move online, despite its incredibly high mobile penetration. What we're seeing now is consumers being nudged into shopping online and once they experience the convenience, assuming a positive experience, then it's natural there'll be some stickiness. Consumers are patient for clothing and luxury items often due to being imported but the real value comes by providing the necessity items that people are less able to be patient for. eCommerce companies need to be doing all they can to deliver a positive experience while coping with increased demand, as only those that succeed can expect to gain loyal customers in the long run."

Ko Mike Than Tun Win, the founder of FlyMya and BOD Tech Ventures, also expressed a similar sentiment that "Myanmar digital adoption has always lagged behind our regional peers despite having one of the highest mobile penetration rate. COVID-19 crisis has pushed many first time users and businesses to embrace e-commerce and is giving Myanmar ecosystem much needed attention."

According to publicly available information, there were 4 investments into eCommerce startups in the first half of 2020 despite Covid19.12 One of the investments was in Kyarlay which was at the pre-series A stage, while the rest were at the seed stage. Compared to other countries in the region, the number seems small. However, it is not bad, considering there was only 1 investment in eCommerce startups during the first half of 2019.

We have seen firsthand the impact of the first wave on the growth of eCommerce industry. With mobile peneration exceeding 100% and internet peneration of more than 41%,13 it is logical to expect the increasing role of eCommerce and huge growth of the industry as we combat the second wave as a country. Due to Covid19, the new regional operators cannot enter the market in a short term, leaving the existing players to capture the expanding market. There may be a window of 6 to 12 months for the existing startups to take full advantage of the situation.

The Myanmar government is also in support of the industry. According to U Aung Htoo, the deputy minister of Commerce, "The Ministry of Commerce will release an overview of a plan to develop e-commerce in Myanmar soon".14 COVID-19  Economic  Relief  Plan  (CERP)  has also outlined the specific actions to promote eCommerce platforms.15 The next 12 months will be pivotal in shaping the Myanmar eCommerce industry, which will be born out of necessity during this Covid19 crisis.

Sources

[1] Most of Yangon Under Partial Lockdown as Myanmar’s COVID-19 Death Toll Rises to 14

[2]Is Myanmar having its second digital moment?

[3]WOrldometers

[4]Sea nearly doubles Q2 revenue to $1.29b as Shopee continues growth

[5]Delivery Hero raises full-year guidance after record growth in Q2

[6]Coronavirus pandemic: Is the second wave already here?

[7]Coronavirus: Melbourne lockdown extended by two weeks

[8]Shop.com.mm kicks off the 2020 sales campaign season with 9.9 Online Super Sale!

[9]Foodpanda Launches Service in Myanmar

[10]What is a Good Net Promoter Score? (2020 NPS Benchmark)

[11]What Do Companies with High Net Promoter Score Have in Common?

[12]List of Investments in Myanmar

[13]DIGITAL 2020: MYANMAR

[14]Govt commits to developing secure ecosystem for e-commerce in Myanmar

[15]Myanmar E-commerce Current Scenario


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