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Which startups are making waves in retail in Southeast Asia?

Written by Contributor Published on   4 mins read

Even though there’s currently an online retail revolution going on in the region, physical retail is still a massive industry.

The retail industry got its start around 6,000 BC and it all began with bartering, using camels, cows and even good faith as a form of currency. We have gone from the abacus to the original cash drawer—patented in the late 1800s—to the electronic cash register. Now customers can pop their phone out and retailers can do a simple scan to collect payment. Looking to the past, do you think those before us saw the retail industry going through the innumerable changes that it has endured?

When a technological development upgrades or innovates the way business is conducted in the industry, it’s considered a disruption because it disrupts the status quo. From the storefront to storage rooms, the retail industry is facing significant transformations, leaving companies facing these challenges vulnerable. It means they must learn and grow if they want continued success for their organisations.


Wendy Chen, founder and CEO of retail data analytics startup Omnistream, saw a need for crunching numbers in the retail industry and in 2013 founded one of the top startups making waves in retail. Using real-time actionable insights and results-focused consultancy, Omnistream assists companies in making the customer their focal point driving sales, and accomplishing their business goals. As countless companies are offering clients specific analytics, Chen explains how Omnistream is working its way to the top, “We offer data-plus-consultancy,” she said. “We have a customer success function that is core to our offering. Since we sometimes bill [based] on ‘outcomes-as-a-service’, we are very much vested in making sure customers are successful.”

Singapore’s economy expanded by 4.3% y.o.y. and 1.4%  q.o.q. in Q1 2018 and retail sales declined by 1.5% y.o.y. in March 2018, Chen’s decision to move Omnistream to Singapore seems to be another wise move. Raising over $1 million USD in funding from the likes of V.C.s CapitaLand and Wavemaker Partners, Chen is seizing an opportunity to build the market up through her work with potential retail clients and it starts with investing in Omnistream talent recruitment, product development, and geographical expansion, ensuring they are able to continue providing clients with effective personalised service.



Introduced in London in the early 1800s, vending machines, originally dispensing postcards and fruit, are an international staple in the retail industry. The past several years have brought about some recognisable upgrades, however, from the customer’s perspective, things probably look pretty much the same across the board. That’s until now. Creating a competitive edge in the market, SmartRetail has taken the disruption of technology and bridged the O2O (online-to-offline) gap for businesses and transformed the purchasing experience for consumers.

Read SmartRetail Co-Founder, Kevin William’s story.

Touchscreen and cashless pay vending is only the beginning of the vending experience provided by SmartRetail. Overcoming the health disruption and feeding into the need for a digital living, customers visiting a SmartRetail Health Addiction machine can stick to their health goals with healthier snack options. Considering the sales of healthier snacks outpace traditional snack foods by three times, yet most vending machines are still stocked with junk food, retailers are now able to serve consumers based on what they are demanding. SmartRetail has also identified the retailers’ need to keep an eye out on their machines’ data from wherever and have created the solution, employing AI technology. Businesses are able to adjust their current marketing strategies, track their sales and inventory, and control product management from anywhere in the world, be it home or on the beach in Maui.



Raising over $4 million USD from 615 investors, PundiX is definitely a startup to keep an eye on as they are striving to equip businesses around the world with cryptocurrency knowledge and capabilities. This blockchain startup’s CEO, Zac Cheah, believes cryptocurrency should be available to all and is confident that their working product can make buying cryptocurrency as simple as buying bottled water. He believes the market is ready to embrace the world of digital currency.

With the world heading towards a cashless system, PundiX is on a mission to solve the problem of buying, selling, and using of cryptocurrency being difficult by simplifying and mainstreaming the process. Currently, they have sold over 5,000 POS devices that have allowed people to make purchases using Bitcoin, and have given merchants a fee upon a sale of the digital currency. They also offer a cryptocurrency debit card, and don’t worry if you lose it as they have a security card that can be used as a replacement, a member loyalty program, and a platform for advertisers.



This company is taking global steps with its image-recognition technology to push FMCG suppliers forward who are in need of having their shelves well stocked, organised, and inventoried. With these companies spending over $70 billion USD on shelf presentation, Trax CEO Joel Bar-El is committed to helping. “FMCG companies today spend about $70 billion USD over shelf merchandising standards, buying shelf space and marketing materials, promotions, exhibitions, and so on,” Joel says. “So we help them monitor the market.”

In the past, businesses had to invest time, energy, and money into travelling to their stores in order to survey the inventory. Trax has eliminated the waste of the precious things we cannot get back and created computer vision that can scan the shelves and provide necessary data to retailers digitally. They have also catered to the needs of consumers by providing them with an online experience that offers the opportunity to view products in advance and make wiser purchasing decisions.

Something is to be learned from these companies. Adapt. It is in your ability to stay current on disruption trends, confront them head-on, adjust to those changes, and innovate new industry breakthroughs that will keep your customers flocking and your business ahead of the game.

Originally published by Tech Collective


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