E-commerce upskilling Thai businesses that sharpen their online game are staying healthy amid the pandemic, with help from Alibaba Global Initiatives

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Living amid the gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least one silver lining has surfaced: greater innovations in digital connectivity that have introduced more convenience and dynamism in how we work and communicate with one another.

As the pandemic wore on, building up digital infrastructure to accommodate remote working and online transactions and business has become prevalent. E-commerce in particular is an industry that boomed in Thailand as more consumers took to shopping from home during lockdowns and closures of offline retail and dining-in outlets.

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Thousands of businesses have come to recognise how shifting from solely traditional brick-and-mortar stores to online storefronts could help them to weather the challenges and keep afloat. This has been the case for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and brands in Thailand, just as it has been all over the world. Locally, the Department of Business Development reported 794 new business registrations for e-commerce in the first seven months of 2021, up from 576 in the same period a year earlier.

But as more businesses leap into e-commerce, many novice online sellers are facing an unknown landscape in which they lack sufficient experience. Businesses that sought avenues to elevate their e-commerce skills found they gained more online traffic, brand awareness and sales by building a broader platform for engagement with customers locally and globally.

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One such company was Than Thong Arts Co Ltd, which sells handcrafted, gemstone arts pieces. Initially selling via offline retail stores and at physical trade fairs, it felt the pinch during the pandemic when Thailand went into lockdown, sharply reducing its primary source of buyer traffic and sales.

Managing director Wanlaya Suwannapirom witnessed the power of e-commerce when a local influencer livestreamed a presentation featuring her company’s products at a trade fair — the Than Thong Arts booth managed to sell out its collection in a day.

E-commerce upskilling  Thai businesses that sharpen their online game are staying healthy amid the pandemic, with help from Alibaba Global Initiatives

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Than Thong Arts, a local gem arts manufacturer and exporter, expanded its customer base by 50% and sales by 20% within 10 months of going online, says Ms Wanlaya.

Determined to broaden her e-commerce know-how and help her company thrive in the pandemic, Ms Wanlaya joined the Alibaba Netpreneur Training programme organised by Alibaba Global Initiatives (AGI). To date, AGI has helped to train about 1,500 digital entrepreneurs and business leaders from 45 countries and regions, who have subsequently shared their learning with other members of their communities.

The programme helps entrepreneurs and business leaders take tangible steps to advance in the digital economy, based on insights from the Alibaba entrepreneurship journey. Since making the transition to online and launching a website for Than Thong Arts in both Thai and English, Ms Wanlaya says she has seen her customer base expand by over 50% and witnessed sales growth of more than 20% over 10 months.

“Beyond just e-commerce trends, the programme showed us how to apply insights and models to our own companies simply and effectively, which helped turn our business around, reach a global customer base, and get through the difficulties brought on by the pandemic,” she said.

With the world set to continue living and working in a pandemic environment, embracing new experiences and opportunities is necessary for businesses seeking to fuel sustained growth. E-commerce will continue to be a dominant mode of shopping in the near future, and digital transformation a key strategy for businesses to drive customer engagement and ride out the pandemic.

“The pandemic showed us the urgency of transitioning our business online, and we had to reassess our business model and how to build this around our customers,” said Ms Wanlaya.

“As a business completely new to e-commerce, we realised the first step in our e-commerce journey was to find the right channel and platform to guide us in achieving this goal.”

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