Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
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Asia's Online Shopping Boom Is Making It Harder to Track Inflation

An explosion in online shopping in Asia has policy makers scrambling to gauge its effects on their economies. Here’s how eight economies across the region are digesting the e-commerce boom via the work of their central bankers and statistics agencies:

Australia

  • Central bank Governor Philip Lowe says retail deflation is likely to “persist for quite some time” after Amazon Inc. Australia debut in 2017. “If you look at the price index for basically supermarket food, it hasn’t moved anywhere for five or six years,” said Lowe (Feb. 8), on retail deflation and Amazon’s likely impact
  • Clothing, footwear prices fell 3% last year and furniture declined by similar amount as foreign retailers entered new market segments: Lowe
  • Lowe: Online vendors “shaking up the Australian industry,” forcing other retailers to find efficiency savings; “the process has further to run”

China

  • Government’s consumer prices survey includes online sales, but commerce ministry also is using earnings reports and “big data” to gauge e-commerce impact
  • A unit within the commerce ministry meets with e-commerce businesses and conducts studies with research institutions
  • China e-commerce sales totaled 31 trillion yuan ($4.9 trillion) last year and are growing at about a 30 percent annual rate, according to the commerce ministry

India

  • Statistics Office considering including e-commerce in retail inflation data as early as this year; could herald lower prices in short term: senior government official.
  • “There’s loud thinking on including online sales in inflation,” said M.V.S. Ranganadham, statistics ministry director general; “We don’t have relevant data flow at the moment. We are looking for it. Now it has become very important.”
  • India’s e-commerce made up 1.5% of total sales worth 49 trillion rupees ($752 billion) in fiscal year to March 2017: Crisil Research, arm of Standard and Poor’s. E-commerce tipped to grow 2.5 times by 2020 to reach 1.8 trillion rupees, led by online grocery segment: Crisil

Japan

  • Government task force of companies including Visa Inc., Money Forward Inc. is brainstorming how to improve household data that captures some online spending: Taijiro Ako, director of consumer statistics division at Statistics Bureau of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
  • “Making better data amid vast changes in the economy isn’t only about the number of head counts at our bureau. That requires good statisticians with knowledge and education”: Ako
  • Online purchases also might make a bigger presence in Japan’s Consumption Trend Index, an upcoming measure that is meant to better capture personal spending through a bigger sample size and collection of data via mobile app

Malaysia

  • Malaysia’s statistics department estimates 87% of Malaysians use internet daily; 80% of those users seek information on goods, services
  • “Big data” initiative created to explore online pricing and inflation
  • Statistics department also now has unit dedicated to compiling indicators to measure e-commerce

Philippines

  • Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas sees growing popularity of e-commerce among Filipinos 
  • Central bank has joined with Philippine Statistics Authority to use big data to assess e-commerce impact. Central bank’s statistics team tracking wholesale and retail trade and price, credit, and payment figures in online transactions, according to e-mailed statement
  • Central bank seeking real-time data to improve on old models; sees e-commerce lowering inflation via ease of doing business versus brick-and-mortars. Bank “hires and encourages staff to be immersed in” big data analytics and data science.

South Korea

  • Statistics office more than doubled the number of online products surveyed for its consumer price index to 109 products from December 2016 in order to reflect growth in online retail
  • Bank of Korea has said it will consider reflecting online purchases as it decides on a new inflation target later this year that will be applied from 2019

Thailand

  • Bank of Thailand working with Ministry of Commerce to inject more online pricing in consumer price index
  • Lower operating costs among online vendors, greater transparency in pricing contributing to downward price pressures, central bank says
  • “This ‘Amazon effect’ is well documented in the U.S., but we think they also play a substantial role in keeping inflation low in Thailand as well”: BoT statement

— With assistance by Enda Curran, Michelle Jamrisko, Toru Fujioka, Michael Heath, Suttinee Yuvejwattana, Siegfrid Alegado, Vrishti Beniwal, Pooi Koon Chong, Miao Han, and Jiyeun Lee

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