The Growing Need to Localise for E-Commerce Payments in Southeast Asia

If you’ve been in the e-commerce game for a while, you’re probably familiar with localisation. But if not, this is important to know: Southeast Asia has one of the world’s most diverse populations and it makes sense that your website should be tailored to suit each market accordingly.

With more than 650 million people living across about a dozen countries, there are important differences across borders for businesses to consider. To localise means to tailor your business so that it meets the needs of local shoppers in every different country that your business operates in.

One of the most crucial in recent years is e-commerce payment systems. While cultural and language barriers are important to consider, effective localisation of payment systems means that your site meets your customers’ needs and makes life easier at checkout. A good system ultimately ensures that shopping online is a seamless, value-adding experience for shoppers.

The potential earnings that would be unlocked from getting it right cannot be overstated. In 2020, a good 37.6% of orders for ASEAN businesses were online orders. That figure is expected to be 44% in 2025, as regional e-commerce is set to touch USD$2 trillion by then.

Below are some key reasons localising your e-commerce payment system is crucial to survive and thrive in the region.

The Growing Need to Localise for E-Commerce Payments in Southeast Asia


Payment method variety dominates the Southeast Asia landscape

Any e-commerce business would do well to understand what its customers from different countries are looking for and how they interact with its site.

This is especially true for payment methods, as a lack of the right options in each country could significantly affect conversions. It is found that 59% of online shoppers would abandon their carts if their preferred payment methods are unavailable. Moreover, offering the top three preferred payment methods for e-commerce in a country would improve conversion rates by 30%.

Although some commonalities can be identified across the countries in Southeast Asia, variety of payment methods remains a key characteristic of its e-commerce landscape.

Payment method

Preferred payment methods by country

According to a 2020 study on e-commerce payment methods by global payments solutions brand Rapyd, these are the top payment methods for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand:

  • Indonesia:
    • OVO e-wallet (69%)
    • Debit card (67%)
    • ATM transfer (64%)
    • Go-Pay e-wallet (62%)
  • Malaysia:
    • Maybank2u bank transfer (65%)
    • Cash-on-delivery (COD) (65%)
    • Debit card (64%)
    • Touch ‘n Go eWallet (60%)
  • Singapore:
    • Credit card (75%)
    • PayNow real-time transfer (70%)
    • Cash over-the-counter (OTC) (63%)
  • Thailand:
    • True Money eWallet (66%)
    • COD (60%)
    • Credit card (55%)

Other sources show that preferences in Philippines and Vietnam are quite different too:

  • Philippines:
    • Cash OTC (37%)
    • PayMaya bank transfer (29%)
    • Cards (22%)
  • Vietnam:
    • Cards (mostly debit) (31%)
    • Cash (26%)
    • Bank transfer (23%)

It is worth noting that only between 20 to 30% of shoppers across most countries in the region use credit cards, with the exception of Singapore. The common method preferred among ASEAN countries is cash.

How preferred payment methods affect e-commerce businesses

Different payment methods have different implications on the online shopping experience. From e-wallets to cards, cash and bank transfers, it can be costly for e-commerce businesses to integrate every possible option just to accommodate various types of shoppers in a market. On top of that, many shoppers would need a user interface that enables them to search, browse, and checkout seamlessly.

As for cash transactions as a preferred payment method, it can pose substantial risks if a system is not in place to manage them properly. Businesses that offer COD aren’t able to secure payment while bearing the costs of logistics; if the item is rejected upon arrival, they bear the costs of its return too. Despite the potential drawbacks, many choose to offer this payment option to reach a much broader consumer base—and that’s because about 290 million people in the region are still unbanked.

The online shopping


In what ways can e-commerce businesses localise for ASEAN countries?

Firstly, they need to tailor the shopping process to suit the local culture and languages. Secondly, they need to anticipate the needs of customers with an up-to-date understanding of the local and regional market. In most cases this comes as a tall order for businesses. So having a localisation partner for such needs will go a long way in helping businesses stay cost-effective and responsive in catering to specific shopping behaviors.

E-commerce trends

The need for strong grasp of local languages and culture

Language matters in every step of the payment flow for online shopping. Without the appropriate terms, phrases, information and call-to-actions, problems can emerge that would cause shoppers to abandon their carts.

Here are examples:

  • Filling out delivery information:

The shopper may find that some of the fields to fill out are too complicated or difficult to understand.

  • Filling out payment information:

The shopper may not be able to find information to assure them of a safe and secure transaction, and so choose not to key in their payment information.

  • Confirming the order:

When there is any order rejection or missing one-time password (OTP), the shopper could not identify where it went wrong or know what to do next.

The fix often lies in proper translation within an intuitive user interface, so that shoppers have a clear understanding of what they need to do in each step of the payment process.

At the same time, localised and multilingual customer service support is needed at various touch points of the order fulfilment process. From making sure buyers understand the seller’s policies to addressing their complaints regarding their deliveries, a localisation partner has a crucial role to play in ensuring a business speaks the language of a market. Doing so helps minimise losses and cushion its reputation from irreparable damage.

Languages and culture

The need for strong grasp of market forces

Adaptability is also a matter of staying in touch with shifts in the e-commerce landscape, and knowing how to respond productively. For instance, the recent boom of social commerce, or e-commerce done via social media, has seen the number of social commerce sales double and value of sales triple by Q3 2020 over the same period in 2019.

Within social commerce is the trend of live selling, where sellers showcase their products via live streams. This opens up a greater need for localisation, given how live selling highlights the immediate effects of language barriers. The support of a localisation agency would be a strategic imperative for businesses that intend to remain relevant and profitable in e-commerce.


You may be able to get a head start on your competitors by knowing how e-commerce shopping behaviours differ in Southeast Asia, and as such understand the role of localising payment systems.

To localise a payment system essentially means to adapt all aspects of the payment process to a local market that provides a seamless online shopping experience for its shoppers. On that front, elionetwork is a trusted localisation partner for payment systems with decades of expertise in helping businesses to:

  • Localise the language of payment terms and policies
  • Provide multi-currency support

Trusted localisation partner

Why choose elionetwork as your localisation partner?

elionetwork is uniquely equipped to partner with e-commerce businesses.

In addition to our expertise in localisation and globalisation of e-commerce businesses, we possess extensive linguistic expertise that makes us able to persuasively appeal to local sensibilities. Our translation resources have been applied across major regions to arm businesses with the right tools for international growth. Broad technical know-how has also enabled our localisation team to be effective across a wide range of e-commerce platforms.