The Tiger Cub economies in 2022: How to tap into the trading potential

Vivien Christel Vella
Vivien Christel Vella
6 min read
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What are the Tiger Cub Economies?
The Tiger Cub economies are Southeast Asia's emerging economies: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
While still in their early stages of development, the Tiger Cub Economies hold promise for significant future growth.

In 2019, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that Asia could account for nearly 40% of global consumption by 20401. It has already become the world’s largest e-commerce market, with the total revenue of online retail in Asian countries adding up to nearly 1.7 trillion US dollars in 20232. The continent represents an enormous opportunity for cross-border e-commerce, but which countries should you focus on? Let’s look at five growing economies you may not have considered: the Tiger Cubs.

Which economies are the Tiger Cubs? 

Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam are the five markets that economists have dubbed the Tiger Cubs. The nickname comes from their proximity to the original  ‘Four Asian Tigers’ of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.  

The Tiger Economies accelerated from primarily agrarian economies to fully developed, high-income industrialized nations in just a few decades between the 1950s and 1990s. And that’s exactly what the Tiger Cubs are doing now. 

electric car being charged

Impact on the global economy

Like the rest of the world, the Tiger Cubs were impacted by the global pandemic. But even after this economic shock, growth in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) zone overall bounced back to 3.4% by 20213.  

The overall outlook is positive. Asian economies have come a long way in recent years and have now embraced technology in various different ways.  

Indonesia uses its natural minerals to build batteries for electric vehicles and is digitalizing its manufacturing sector. Malaysia produces semi-conductors for microchips. Thailand is now known for its well-developed vehicle and machine-building sector. Vietnam has become a manufacturing center for textiles, electronics and electrical devices, and vehicle manufacturing could also take off there. And the Philippines are becoming a center for outsourcing services including IT and software development.  

Like the Tiger economies before them, growth for the Tiger Cubs is driven by exports.  

The Tiger Cub economies main exports 

Here are the Tiger Cub exports by country4

  • Indonesia: palm oil, telephones, automotive parts and motor vehicles, computers and jewelry 
  • Malaysia: palm oil, petroleum, wood, liquified natural gas 
  • Thailand: textiles, machinery, chemicals, electronics 
  • The Philippines: electronics, petroleum, semiconductors, coconut oil, transport equipment 
  • Vietnam: clothing, rice, crude oil, coffee 
figurine of a tiger

The Tiger Cub cross-border e-commerce opportunity  

With the total Asian e-commerce market projected to be worth US$1.81 trillion in 20235, it’s no surprise that online shopping in Asia is booming. A young population, high internet penetration rates, and a growing middle class with more disposable income available are all driving the boom.  

Indonesia is the biggest Tiger Cub. Its e-commerce market was worth US$52.93 billion in 20236 (up from just over US$30 billion in 20207), and it’s expected to grow to a whopping US$86.81 billion by 20288.     

You should also keep an eye on Malaysia, where the e-commerce penetration rate will be 40.2% in 2024, with the average revenue per user expected to reach an impressive US$571.409

The other Tiger Cubs promise lucrative opportunities too. International shipping makes almost any market reachable, so they are all worth seriously considering. 

Let’s get to know each of them a little better… 

hand swiping on a mobile


Indonesia has a population of over 279 million10, making it the world’s fourth most populous country, behind China, India and the US.  Having grown five-fold over the last five years, its e-commerce market is booming and has grown into the ninth largest sector in the world, according to a recent McKinsey & Company research report11.  

According to McKinsey, 85% of the market is made up of resellers or distributors, with only 15% of merchants selling their own products. Indeed, TikTok has recently bought a 75% controlling stake in Indonesia’s biggest e-commerce platform, conveniently named Tokopedia, in a deal worth $1.5 billion12. It will be integrated with TikTok’s own e-commerce marketplace, TikTok Shop, which will be incorporated into the Tokopedia brand. 

Alongside the emphasis on e-commerce marketplaces – and now TikTok – Indonesia is expected to lead Southeast Asia’s regional growth in Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) for the next two years13. This is due to a combination of two factors: the fast-growing e-commerce sector and the large proportion of the population who don’t have conventional bank accounts.  

In fact, according to a report by International Data Corporate, Indonesia will make up to 58% of Asia’s BNPL spends on e-commerce platforms by 2025. So, if you do decide to venture into the Indonesian e-commerce market, make sure you offer a BNPL option. 

In 2023, the four most popular e-commerce categories in Indonesia were fashion (purchased by 70.1% of online shoppers), followed by beauty and personal care (49.7%), food and beverages (40.8%), furniture and home appliances (37.3%) and consumer electronics (31.5%)14. The most popular overseas online shopping destinations were China, the US and Singapore. Due to underdeveloped fixed-line internet infrastructure, Indonesians rely on smartphones to shop; international merchants with a dedicated mobile app will be at an advantage. 

laptops on a table


Malaysia has a population of 34,671,895 in 202415. It’s the richest country of all the Tiger Cub economies. 

Malaysia’s e-commerce market has a predicted revenue of US$18,201.3 million in 2024, projected to rise to US$33,672.5 million by 2028. Electronics is the largest market and accounts for 24.9% of Malaysian e-commerce revenue. It is followed by fashion with 19.5%, hobby and leisure with 18.6% and furniture and homeware with 11.7%, grocery with 10.4%, care products with 7.8%, and DIY with the remaining 7.1%16

China, Indonesia and Japan are the top international shopping markets. Social media is hugely popular in Malaysia, with 26.8 million users in 2023 – 78.5% of the total population17. This presents brands with an ideal way to reach and target prospects. Cross-border companies face challenges from the country’s geography and high B2C import taxes. 

view of Thailand


Like all Southeast Asia’s economies, Thailand’s was hit hard by the pandemic; the country’s dependence on tourism left it particularly vulnerable. So, unlike other ASEAN countries, it has experienced a relatively slow economic recovery.  

The Thais are a nation of smartphone and social media users – consumers like browsing, chatting, shopping and accessing information on one device. Apps are the most-used method of shopping online. According to Consumer Report Thailand 2023, the biggest e-commerce categories in Thailand were fashion (60% of the total market) followed by personal care (43.2%) and food and beverages (34.6%). 30% of the e-commerce market is cross-border18 with China, Japan and the US the most popular countries to buy from. 

International e-commerce merchants wishing to tap into the market must first register with the Department of Business Development (under the Ministry of Commerce) to obtain a license. 

woman arranging medicines on shelves

The Philippines

In its ‘Asia Macro Outlook 2024’ report, Nomura Global Markets Research noted the Philippines as one of ‘Asia’s striving Tiger Cubs’ and likely to be one of the fastest-growing economies of the decade19. Along with its fellow Tiger Cub, Indonesia, it is one of the countries most likely to benefit from the biggest foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the coming years, which would supercharge its economy.  

“They have been scaling up structural reforms to address infrastructure gaps, strengthen regulations and improve competitiveness,” Nomura said. 

The Philippines promises strong growth overall with a GDP per capita that is expected to reach US$3754.00 by the end of 202420. And now it has become a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it should be more competitive as a manufacturing hub too.  

In 2023, the most popular e-commerce categories in the Philippines were fashion, beauty and personal care, food and beverages, consumer electronics, and furniture and home appliances. E-commerce made up just 7.5% of the country’s total retail market21, yet growth is happening, driven by a young, digitally savvy population, and the pandemic nudging people online. Importantly, according to a recent JP Morgan report, 50% of all online consumers there have shopped cross-border22. The country has some of the highest rates of social media usage in the world and shoppers frequently make purchases via live streaming. 

woman swiping on a mobile screen


Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia, described by the World Bank as a “development success story”23. Economic reforms and beneficial global trends have helped transform it from one of the world’s poorest nations into a middle-income economy with a GDP per capita forecast to reach US$4.72k in 202424

The Vietnamese e-commerce market is growing particularly fast and projected to show a growth rate (CAGR) of 9.36% during 2024-203225. This is being driven by the growing internet population, increasing smartphone penetration and a young, tech-savvy demographic. The rise in digital payment availability, the development of the country’s logistics and delivery infrastructure, and favorable legislation for online businesses are also positive factors. 

In 2022, the most popular e-commerce categories in Vietnam were clothing, footwear and cosmetics (purchased by 76% of online shoppers); home appliances (67%); technological and electronic devices (61%); and books, stationery, flowers or gifts (53%)26. Vietnamese shoppers frequently look to overseas markets for wider product choice and value, especially to the US and China, and cross-border transactions make up 37% of the country’s total e-commerce market27. International merchants wishing to target Vietnamese consumers should be aware of the popularity of mobile commerce – in particular, in-app shopping. 

Ready to tap into the potential of the Tiger Cubs? As international experts, we can help. Sign up for a DHL Account here.