The Asia Pacific (APAC) region is made up of some of the world's most progressive digital economies. It's the birthplace of the QR code and established home of the super-app — the region is synonymous with innovation.
And, innovation will continue at pace in 2022.
Cross-border digital frameworks, the continued adoption of ecommerce and a strong appetite for Central Bank Digital Currencies are just a handful of the major trends that'll set the stage for growth this year.
We spoke with ecommerce, crypto and payments experts to learn more.
Shifting from offline to online commerce
APAC is anything but homogeneous. Across the region, markets are at different stages of development. One thing that is common throughout, though, is the massive increase of consumers shopping online due to the pandemic.
Edge Dalmacio, Lead Product Manager, Payments, Grab, doesn’t see this stopping in 2022. "We'll see ecommerce continue to gain momentum this year. Consumer habits have changed permanently due to the pandemic. Consumers across the region have gotten used to shopping online. And that's not going to change even as we move out of the pandemic era."
As consumers have embraced ecommerce, so too have they embraced digital payment methods. However, according to Edge, many businesses haven't caught up to this shift.
"Consumers want to pay with card or digital wallets, not cash," he says. "Yet a lot of businesses, particularly SMEs, aren't making the change and are losing business as a result. The opportunity for us in the payment space is to help these businesses understand the benefits of accepting digital payments. And support them to make the transition without causing major upheaval to their business."
Meeting new payment demands
The payment methods customers want to use are evolving as the digital payments ecosystem grows.
Our survey last year found digital wallets to be the preferred digital payment method for consumers, excluding cards. Unsurprisingly, this is true, especially in those markets such as China and Singapore, where mcommerce is common. Consumers in these markets see no value in adopting cards when they can just move from cash or bank transfers directly to digital wallets.
While the adoption of digital wallets will continue, it's Buy Now. Pay Later (BNPL) that Ashley Paulus, VP Customer Success at Checkout.com, believes will dominate conversations this year.
"We can't ignore BNPL and the impact this has had on ecommerce globally," she says. "APAC is one of its hotbeds. And our research finds it has become a key reason for consumers to use ecommerce, particularly among those under the age of 30."
With BNPL adoption expected to grow considerably this year, Ashley suggests businesses take a very close look at their customers' demand for it. "Although BNPL first emerged in the fashion retail space, we're now seeing it used for luxury items, beauty, health, lifestyle and even food and beverage," she says. "For that reason, I expect that customers will soon expect to have access to a BNPL option at the checkout wherever they shop online."
Opening up new markets
It's expected more APAC businesses will expand their horizons this year in search of growth markets within APAC and further afield. And when they do, they will need to pay close attention to the unique consumer trends in the markets they’re targeting.
"In 2022, we will see many businesses, especially those from Mainland China, continue expanding around the world," says Yuen Chong, VP Business Development, China, Checkout.com. "We're already in conversation with many that are looking to enter the high growth markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
"These markets all have their unique qualities, not least in the way people pay," he adds. "So we always advise businesses to make sure they have a deep understanding of the consumer trends on the ground before they enter."
Payments optimization is another conversation Yuen is having, particularly with those businesses operating in Europe. "Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) is a big topic amongst those businesses from China and the APAC region operating in Europe," he says. "And this conversation will continue as businesses work to understand the regulations and how best to optimize payments to meet their commercial objectives."
Continued crypto adoption
Another trend that's sure to continue making waves across the region, and the world, this year is crypto. In 2021, crypto activity in the region increased upwards of 700%, according to research from Chainalysis. And, as the shift from web2 to web3 continues, it'll be no surprise to see growth exceed that number this year.
"In an area where there is so much innovation, it's hard to pinpoint one trend that will come to the fore in 2022," says Gerry Eng, Co-founder & CTO at Coinhako. "However, if I had to pick one, it would be the emergence and adoption of stablecoins. We've already started seeing stablecoins used for payments, settlement and remittances across numerous customer segments. That will only continue this year."
Gerry is also bullish about Central Backed Digital Currencies (CBDCs). "Governments across the region are exploring using CBDCs," he says. "A lot of this work is still in its infancy. However, it's already having a positive impact on how consumers and businesses view digital assets."
Regulation will also have a role to play. "I expect we'll see more regulation emerge around the crypto space this year," Gerry adds. "This will create challenges for businesses like ours and change the way we interact with customers and other exchanges. However, despite this, regulation is important for the long-term growth of the digital economy and crypto's role within it."
2022 in the spotlight
2022 looks set to be a year of continued growth in APAC. And with the trends we're seeing, the region looks set to remain at the forefront of innovation in ecommerce and payments.