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Unlocking UX Research in Southeast Asia

While the user experience scene was still nascent 10 years ago in Southeast Asia, today it is no longer the case. We can see more enterprises and companies acknowledging the importance of user experience, some of them even built their own UX team to optimize their product and services.

Based on 2022 retail ecommerce sales growth data provided by eMarketer, Southeast Asia countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand are in the top 10 list, leading the world in retail ecommerce sales growth.

According to Stephanie Davis, Google Vice President of Southeast Asia, “Since the pandemic began, 60 million Southeast Asians have become digital consumers: people who have used at least one service online, from groceries and food delivery to online entertainment and finance. There are now 350 million digital consumers across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.”

As a result, more businesses and brands are paying closer attention to digital consumer users in Southeast Asia. However, there can be many unknown user behaviors that could make or break the localization of your product in this region. As you can see, Southeast Asia comprises many different countries that have their own language and culture, so expanding into each of them would need in-depth understanding of what works for that local market.

In order to unlock research in Southeast Asia, there are 2 key considerations you need to have, first, by having the necessary mindset – this is the key to guide you through in research planning and decision making. Secondly, taking into account the practicality when executing research.


Here are mindsets that would be helpful when one is executing user experience research in a foreign market:

1- Be curious and open minded. As Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most culturally diverse continents with different traditions, religions, languages, and lifestyles, keeping an open mind and a curious attitude helps you to learn the users in this region deeply.

2- Being empathetic. When you empathize with users, you are able to think of the needs and motivations of your users and not just yourself. When you empathize with your team members/partners, you are able to create a better working relationship for better outcome. 

3- Communication is key. User research is a team sport, communication with your own team or with the local partners that are helping you to execute research ensures that everyone’s goal and expectation is aligned.

4- Embracing failure. Not every research goes according to plan as sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances due to on-ground situations. It should serve as a learning experience and allow you to be more prepared in your next research.

Practicalities in Southeast Asia

Whilst it is not possible to cover all situations in this article, we will share with you the 4 common areas which foreign researchers can find challenging when conducting research in Southeast Asia.

1- Not having enough background and context of the research in the target market. Secondary desk research can be helpful to provide you with the basic understanding of the target market before initiating interviews with the users.

2- Recruitment of respondents. Getting the right respondents for your research makes all the difference, and in the Southeast-Asian countries with diverse cultures and ethnicities, respondent recruitment can be a tricky task to accomplish. Drawing up a high level criteria and discussing it with local research partners or local colleagues can help to check if those criteria make sense. If they don’t, further tweaks should be made to refine them. Preparing a recruitment screener ensures that you and your recruiting team are aligned with them.

3- Be mindful of Asian timing when scheduling as punctuality might not always be strictly adhered in Southeast Asia. It is not that respondents are trying to make the researcher’s life difficult, but some of the Southeast Asian cities have the most congested traffic conditions in the world. Therefore, planning buffer time for your field work schedule helps.

4- Language plays a big part in expressing our thoughts and opinions, if the respondent is speaking a language they aren’t fluent in, they will have difficulty finding the right words to express themselves which will affect the research findings. This is especially important for qualitative research methods such as interviews and usability testing where respondents need to use language to express their thoughts and opinions. Here, working with a local moderator who can communicate with respondents in the local language is key.

5- Internet access and speed. Although Southeast Asian boosts a lot of digital consumers, internet speed and reliability can vary in different locations. Not to forget that suburban and rural areas may have significant internet connection speed difference as compared to cities. Hence, it is important to take this into consideration while planning to conduct interactive online sessions with the local users, such as interviews, workshops and usability testing. Getting a local partner to coordinate with the respondent beforehand can help to reduce internet hiccups for field work. 


Conducting UX research in Southeast Asia has its own challenges but having the right mindset & practicality considerations would certainly heighten your chances for a successful user research outcome

How we can help:

Netizen eXperience is the trusted partner to enterprises since 2011 for conducting UX research across Southeast Asian markets such as in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines etc.  

For any help or queries you may have or how Netizen eXperience can help you, please get in touch with us.

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