In recent times, Indonesia has witnessed a seismic shift in its regulatory landscape, one that has sparked concerns and conversations across the nation and beyond. The subject of this discourse centers on Indonesia’s remarkable social commerce clampdown and its far-reaching implications, particularly for key players like TikTok Shop.
As we embark on this journey of understanding, we’ll navigate the rationale behind Indonesia’s policy changes, explore the impact on local businesses, and gauge the mixed reactions from consumers who have found themselves at the intersection of tradition and modernity.
Understanding Indonesia’s Recent Social Commerce Clampdown and Its Implications
Indonesia’s recent crackdown on social commerce has sent ripples throughout the market, particularly impacting TikTok Shop, a prominent player in live-streamed e-commerce. While the word “ban” made headlines and sparked concerns, the official Indonesian documents did not explicitly mention a prohibition on “e-commerce” or “live-streamed product promotion.”
This restriction is primarily targeted at “social commerce,” temporarily excluding other categories. However, Indonesia has also tightened import regulations on nine product categories, including children’s toys, electronics, footwear, cosmetics, textiles, traditional medicines, health products, clothing accessories, and luggage. This broader approach could potentially disrupt cross-border e-commerce.
The Ban on Social Commerce: Unusual Yet Rational
Indonesia’s policy changes may seem abrupt, but they align with the country’s long-term development plan, emphasizing the importance of the manufacturing sector in driving GDP growth. The government prioritizes industries like textiles, automotive, and electronics.
From a production perspective, the growth of the local textile and clothing industry allows Indonesia to utilize its domestic resources, create employment opportunities, and contribute to industrial development. The emphasis on locally controlled supply chains benefits the domestic market and economy.
However, external factors, including international trade, e-commerce, live-streaming, and low-cost supply chains, have disrupted the Indonesian market. Foreign trade has brought inexpensive products, while e-commerce has shortened traditional trade chains. The rise of live-streaming and new sales methods has overwhelmed local players, particularly in low-priced categories like apparel, which have been quickly taken over by cross-border sellers with lower-cost supply chains. This is one of the official reasons cited for Indonesia’s crackdown on social commerce: the impact on local businesses, especially the offline retail ecosystem.
Local Consumers: Mixed Reactions to New Regulations
The implementation of new regulations has had a significant impact on offline retailers, but it may take time for the offline business to recover. A visit to Tanah Abang market in Jakarta, described as adversely affected by e-commerce, revealed that while foot traffic and sales had increased, local consumers had mixed feelings about the government’s explanations.
Some questioned why the Tanah Abang market’s decline should affect all TikTok Shop online stores: “Who would travel so far to buy clothes?”
Restrictions on social commerce may not improve the declining state of traditional markets because many young Indonesians prefer online shopping and dislike haggling in offline stores: “Not going to Tanah Abang is not because I don’t want to; it’s just too expensive.”
Local consumers also highlighted issues with the management of offline markets, parking, and traffic, suggesting that shopping in these places is less convenient than visiting local stores.
TikTok’s Fall: Who Will Benefit?
Indonesia’s new regulations prohibit social media-based e-commerce transactions, set minimum prices for imported e-commerce products, and enforce customs checks and regulations on import and export “white lists.”
It’s evident that Indonesia has not targeted all e-commerce and channels with these regulations; the aim is to curb the impact of imported goods with unjustifiable origins, excessive reliance on social media for transactions, and pricing below local market rates. The intention is to provide a window of opportunity for local manufacturing, businesses, and brands to adapt to industry transformation and upgrading.
The impact of these new regulations is noticeable in the market’s response. Many Chinese products entering Indonesia are fast-moving consumer goods, apparel, cosmetics, and other low-priced items, all within the scope of the regulations.
However, the regulations may inadvertently harm innocent businesses. TikTok Shop had achieved a GMV of $2.5 billion in Indonesia in 2022, accounting for 60% of the entire Southeast Asian market. With the policy’s announcement in late September, just before the year-end promotions in Southeast Asia, it was a significant blow to the approximately 6 million businesses, including many local ones, preparing for the peak sales season.
In the short term, the first beneficiaries seem to be local Indonesian e-commerce platforms unaffected by the new regulations, such as Tokopedia, as well as international e-commerce platforms with a strong Southeast Asian presence. Some businesses have quickly established stores on other platforms to capture the traffic and buying intentions lost due to TikTok Shop’s closure. Localization-focused e-commerce platforms have attracted businesses and sources that migrated from TikTok Shop, especially those that launched strong promotions before the year-end sales.
Chinese Businesses: Transitioning from a “Blitz” to a Long-Term Strategy
Many industry experts speculate that TikTok may re-enter the Indonesian market under a different identity, or that Indonesian policies may relax after the 2024 elections. However, the accusation of “predatory pricing” in Indonesia and the crackdown on social commerce could set a precedent for similar actions in other countries. Businesses solely reliant on China’s supply chain capabilities and low-cost competition strategies may also become targets. Cross-border businesses are increasingly influenced by policy-related factors, creating nervousness among industry professionals.
Predicting the next move of a government with inconsistent policies is a flawed strategy. The sensible approach is to align your position with the government’s goals. Regardless of your goals in Indonesia, it’s essential to ensure that local industries also benefit.
To cope with the disappearance of the advantage of a less regulated supply chain, businesses must establish deeper connections with the local government and economic ecosystem. The supply chain advantage can assist in entering new markets rapidly, but for a lasting presence, businesses need to prepare for a long-term battle.
In conclusion, Indonesia’s recent clampdown on social commerce is a testament to the shifting tides of global commerce and the government’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding its domestic industries. While the initial shockwaves reverberated through the business landscape, it is vital to recognize the underlying rationale driving these regulatory changes.
Indonesia’s emphasis on nurturing its domestic manufacturing sector and locally controlled supply chains aligns with its long-term development plan. These policies aim to bolster industries such as textiles, automotive, and electronics, promoting sustainable economic growth and employment opportunities.
The mixed reactions from local consumers underscore the complexities of this transition. While some harbor concerns about the impact on traditional markets, others continue to embrace the convenience and cost-effectiveness of online shopping. It’s evident that the road ahead will require a delicate balance between safeguarding traditional retail and adapting to evolving consumer preferences.
For businesses, both local and international, these changes necessitate a strategic reevaluation. Indonesia’s shifting regulatory landscape serves as a reminder of the importance of aligning with government goals, nurturing local industries, and fostering long-term relationships with the economic ecosystem. While uncertainty lingers about the future, the businesses that embark on this path of adaptation and collaboration will be better positioned to thrive in this evolving landscape.