Groups battle for Asian e-commerce leadership

Groups battle for Asian e-commerce leadership

Three groups with different ideas on how to tap Asia's emerging electronic commerce market have announced their plans here in the past week, as the battle to establish leading positions in the market heats up.

The ventures are looking to secure part of an Asian e-commerce market worth $US723 million last year, but expected to more than double in revenues this year to $US1.87 billion, and to reach $US32.6 billion by 2003, according to figures from market researcher International Data Corporation (IDC).

"All these players are fighting to establish an e-commerce brand name," said Pete Hitchen, senior Internet analyst at IDC Asia-Pacific. "We expect to see a lot more of these kinds of partnerships as e-commerce in Asia grows rapidly into next year."

The most business-oriented joint venture announced last week was between General Electric Information Services (GEIS) and Singapore Computer Systems (SCS). The two companies have set up an e-commerce centre offering services including e-commerce transaction services, corporate gateways, e-commerce outsourcing, extranets, and electronic marketplaces.

To be managed by a joint venture company called EC1, the centre will establish a local e-commerce infrastructure for Singapore businesses, and provide local corporations with a global reach to GEIS' network of 100,000 trading partners, the companies said.

Also last week, Singapore Telecommunications subsidiary National Computer Systems (NCS) announced a partnership with the WyWy Group trading conglomerate to exploit business and consumer e-commerce opportunities in the region.

NCS will provide the e-commerce technology and infrastructure while WyWy will use its extensive retail presence to open up new market sectors for NCS services, the companies said. NCS will also develop and deploy Internet-based software agents to be known as "shop bots" to enable users to search and carry out product comparisons on the Internet.

From the consumer angle, local publisher PanPac Media on Tuesday launched a portal called ChannelZing, aimed at developing virtual communities across Asia, and moving into e-commerce by the end of the year with the help of its partner in the venture, ISP (Internet Service provider) SingNet.

PanPac Media will provide content development and marketing for ChannelZing while SingNet will provide hosting and user facilities such as chat, e-mail, forums and messaging.

The portal, which PanPac said has cost more than $S1 million ($US589,000) to develop, will start with lifestyle and sports communities, and gradually move towards more transaction-based services such as real estate, classified advertising and stock quotes. The two companies hope to replicate this partnership in other Southeast Asian countries and Chinese-speaking areas, they said.

The deals signed are almost all on a nonexclusive basis, as companies look to promote their own area of expertise in as many different markets as possible, IDC's Hitchen said.

For example, NCS last month announced a tie-up with US vendor Commerce One to provide a hub for business-to-business e-commerce to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries as well as India, Hong Kong and Australia. SingNet has said it is looking for additional content providers as well as PanPac Media.

For demographic reasons, Asia's Internet, and e-commerce markets have very different profiles, according to IDC. By 2003, China will have easily the largest number of Internet subscribers in Asia (excluding Japan), but Australia will still be far and away the most lucrative market for e-commerce vendors in the region at that time.

"Australia has high per-capita income, deregulated telecoms, 20 per cent Internet penetration and high use of credit cards," Hitchen said. "It will be the country pushing e-commerce revenues in the region." http;//

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