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Ascend Group wants to be Kingdom’s Alibaba, Amazon

Apr 01. 2016
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THAILAND’S ASCEND Group aims to create the country’s first world-class digital platforms that are comparable to those of Alibaba and Amazon with a focus on e-payment and e-commerce features which will benefit from the faster speed of the new 4G cellular n

Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa, chief executive of Ascend Group, said in an interview that the firm’s e-commerce business volume was forecast to jump 60 per cent this year to Bt4.5 billion from last year’s Bt2.8 billion due to the advent of the 4G cellular service.

4G will be about five times faster than the current 3G so it will give a big boost to mobile commerce. Provincial clients will be among the new customer groups in addition to those in Bangkok and urban areas.

At present, the Internet penetration rate in Thailand is about 45 per cent of the entire population who use the 3G network, while the 4G service is due to be widely available in the next few months.

“E-commerce and e-payment will be made easier and faster,” Punnamas said. “For those in remote areas, they will find it more convenient to top up their prepaid cards via the cellular network or pay other bills or use financial services. The faster cellular service is also expected to drive e-commerce growth.

“4G should boost the use of the cellular network to account for 70 per cent of all e-commerce transactions this year, up significantly from last year’s 40 per cent because it is more convenient and secure to use your mobile phones for these transactions than using the Wi-Fi network at home or office.

“Online purchases of goods and services depend on a reliable and comprehensive eco-system which consists of fast Internet access and e-payment infrastructure. For Thai consumers, a trusted e-payment service is very important because many Thais are reluctant to use credit cards.”

As for e-commerce, it is set to grow rapidly in the coming years as the eco-system has emerged to support widespread adoption, especially in terms of logistics and delivery services. E-commerce’s share of the country’s total retail transactions is forecast to double to 2 per cent shortly. For logistics, Ascend Group’s subsidiary, Aden, is responsible for order fulfilment within 24 hours for delivery within Bangkok and three days for the rest of Thailand.

Punnamas said Ascend Group’s iTrue Mart, its the business to consumer e-commerce site, was popular among the new generation of shoppers nationwide, especially for electronic gadgets, home appliances as well as baby and mother products such as diapers.

On a daily basis, he said there were about 10,000 orders on average with more than two million items currently available on its website.

For business to business e-commerce, Ascend Group’s Pantavanij marketplace site currently handles sales of office supplies, raw materials and other items worth about Bt150 billion annually with a yearly growth rate expected to top 15 per cent this year. Among the major buyers are large organisations such as Siam Commercial Bank, Thanachat Bank and CPN. Ascend also has a consumer to consumer site called Weloveshopping, so the group has positioned itself to cover all major types of electronic marketplaces.

In Thailand, Lazada and iTruemart are among the leading B2C e-commerce sites. In addition, Ascend Capital is aimed at venture capital funding for start-ups in financial technology, customer relations management and logistics.

As for e-payment, Ascend Group has secured licences to operate in eight Asean countries, namely, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia.

In 2015, True’s e-payment services handled transactions worth about Bt58 billion and this year’s growth rate is forecast to be 20 per cent due to the advent of 4G cellular service.

Punnamas said online hotel bookings accounted for about half of all e-payment transactions, followed by ticket purchases and other online services such as insurance policies.

For other online purchases, physical goods account for 15 per cent of the total while digital goods and content account for another 25 per cent, he said.

Punnamas said the 4G cellular service would also allow more personalised marketing services to reach target groups via their mobile phones.

“We’re positioning Ascend Group to be comprehensive digital platforms with a complete eco-system similar to that of the giants like Alibaba of China or Amazon of the US,” he said.

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