East Ventures


27 March 2024

From Portfolios

7 keys for understanding consumer behavior by SEA women D2C founders

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) startups in Southeast Asia have not only shown resilience, but also maintained growth momentum despite the economic uncertainty. However, to stay ahead in the market and effectively reach consumers, these startups must continuously adapt to the evolving landscape.    

Here, four female founders from East Ventures’ portfolio – Roshni Mahtani, Founder & Group CEO of The Parentinc; Cindy Angelina, CEO & Co-Founder of ESQA; Sharon Wong, CEO & Founder of Motherswork; and Tania Suganda, CMO & Co-Founder of Compawnion – share valuable insights on strategies to keep D2C brands at the forefront of consumer behavior in online shopping. 

D2C is a business model where brands sell directly to consumers without intermediaries or middlemen. The D2C startups offer agility and foster direct customer relationships. Unlike traditional companies that rely on wholesalers and retailers, D2C startups are flexible in meeting consumer demands and preferences. 

The booming of D2C startups in Southeast Asia is sparked by several factors, including increasing internet and smartphone penetration, a growing middle class with disposable income, limited access to traditional retail, rising consumer expectations, and the influence of social media. 

To understand the consumer behavior and win the market, several key strategies can be employed: 

1. Utilize social media effectively

“Social media is not just about posting. Social media is advertising, marketing, communications, and selling wrapped up into one effective and incredibly efficient medium,” says Cindy. Social media allows brands like ESQA, the beauty startup, to be more agile in developing and testing new products, services, and marketing strategies. Thus, utilizing social media needs a dedicated marketing and communication strategy, just like its other channels.

Compawnion’s Tania emphasizes that staying relevant requires constant social media listening weekly, as trends can shift rapidly. Being a D2C business allows the company to have a direct and deeper connection to the pet parents.

2. Build a loyal community 

“Building a loyal community is essential for D2C brands. Loyal customers not only buy products but also become ambassadors, spreading positive reviews to others,” says Roshni. She adds theAsianparent has successfully built and nurtured the community, which helped the company to develop its own D2C brand, Mama’s Choice. 

Additionally, Motherswork, a sister brand of theAsianparent, engages in a feedback loop – a two-way dialogue with customers and the community through social media, newsletters, and community forums. “Feedback loop is critical in understanding the ever-changing behavior of customers. The two-way dialogue with the customers allows us to truly understand their needs and preferences,” states Sharon.  

3. Invest in data and analytics 

Roshni highlights the importance of investing in data and analytics to understand customers’ evolving needs and preferences. theAsianparent leverages data and analytics through the Asianparent app and Mama’s Choice brand to tailor product offerings and marketing messages. “This approach allows us to maintain control over the brand experience, ensuring seamless interactions from browsing to checkout. By staying agile and responsive to feedback, we continuously innovate to better serve the evolving needs of mothers and their children,” explains Roshni. 

4. Keep innovating and maintain quality

“Innovation is the first strategy we have employed since day one,” says Tania. As a pet food-focused startup, Compawnion emphasizes scientific research and partnerships, which reflect the company’s commitment to product excellence. Thus, it partnered with one of the most reputable veterinary universities in Indonesia, the University of Veterinary Medicine Institut Pertanian Bogor to ensure that Compawnion’s products have the highest standard of quality and safety. 

Moreover, from Cindy’s experience of building  ESQA, combating plagiarism from competitors poses a notable challenge. Nevertheless, with a proactive mindset and effective strategies, the team can overcome these obstacles. “Hence, product innovation is at the forefront of our brand, we are the first mover of a lot of products in the country, and it is important to always stay ahead of the game,” says Cindy.

5. Be transparent and educate customers

Transparency and education are pivotal in building trust with customers. Brands like theAsianparent empower consumers with valuable resources and transparent information to make informed choices. 

“Through our website and social media channels, we provide valuable resources, tips, and insights on pregnancy, breastfeeding, and baby care. We are also very transparent about our ingredients per product to ensure their safety for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and babies,” shares Roshni. 

Meanwhile, Compawnion prioritizes transparency to ensure product safety with certification and eventually gain the pet parents’ trust. “We stay true to our quality as the production facility already has a Veterinary Control Number Certificate (NKV) – a testament to the safety standards upheld for all animal products,” says Tania. 

6. Monitor competitors and global trends

Staying vigilant about competitors and global trends enables D2C startups to anticipate shifts in consumer behavior. Roshni advocates for regularly reading industry reports and staying informed about emerging technologies to adapt proactively. 

She also emphasizes global events and cultural trends, because these moments can provide insights into broader societal shifts impacting consumer behavior. For instance, Ramadan is a period marked by increased shopping activity as families prepare for special gatherings, Iftar meals, and Eid celebrations. During this time, consumer spending typically rises, particularly on clothing, gifts, home decor, and groceries. As a result, brands often implement discounts, promotions, and extended shopping hours to meet the heightened demand. 

7. Embracing physical retail for D2C growth

Last but not least, consider physical stores when your D2C startup. It aims to enhance your brand visibility and engagement amidst rising competition and evolving consumer preferences. 

“Traditionally, D2C brands have primarily operated online, leveraging e-commerce platforms and digital marketing channels to reach their target audience. While this approach offers numerous benefits, such as lower overhead costs and broader reach, it also has limitations, particularly in providing tangible brand experiences.

Recognizing this, we will definitely see more and more digitally native brands opening physical stores to make their brand more visible and engaging, providing immersive and multi-dimensional brand experiences that cannot be replicated in the digital realm alone,” states Sharon.

While trends change constantly, it is essential to know who your customers are and why they chose you from the early days. East Ventures shares its thesis on D2C startups and how our passionate founders build their brands that are customer-focused, innovative, and personal. Dive deeper into the insight here.

Are you a startup in the D2C sector looking to receive VC funding? Send your pitch here.