An Outsider’s Observation on Indonesian Internet Users

As a Chinese user researcher, I never imagined that one day I would study Indonesian Internet users. I have to admit that a business trip to Indonesia to conduct a usability test did not make me excited in the least bit. However, it was the chance I randomly came across Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray and Love, which talks about a women’s spiritual journey after a divorce, which made this country all the more enjoyable to me.

Before I tap into Indonesian Internet users, let’s talk about Indonesian people. In order to know a country’s people within a  2-week business trip, I used Dr. Hofstede’s Onion Model of Culture and 6-Dimension Model to get a glimpse of the people there.

Onion Model of Culture

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Collectivity: the core value of Indonesia is collectivity and is probably why this country makes me feel like we are quite similiar. As a country with strong social framework, hierarchy is quite stringent upon both family and at the work place. And above all social relations, family is always the most important one for Indonesian people.

Keep Smiling: I have to say, the daily ritual for Indonesian people is keeping your smile, which is their secret of maintaining the appearance of harmony. Foreigners really need to keep it in mind that, even though Indonesians are smiling at you, it does not necessarily mean they really like you or you have higher chances of closing a deal with them. The main objective is maintain harmony.

Hero: national hero for Indonesian people is their first president, Sukarno, who lead them to Indonesisa’s independence. Indonesia used to be a country colonised by both Dutch and Japanese. In this regard, Indonesian shows her tolerance to such a diverse culture.

Symbol: I put dance here as culture symbol because it reflects three major historical and culture aspects of Indonesia: the prehistorical tribal era, the Hindu-buddhist era, and the Islamic Era. Each of these era’s has great impact on lives of the Indonesian people.

6-Dimension Model

Power of Distance

This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us.

Indonesia scores 78, as high as China (score of 80) on this dimension. This indicates that the following characterizes the Indonesian style:

  1. Being dependent on hierarchy, unequal rights between power holders and non power holders.
  2. Power is centralized and manages counts on the obedience of their team members.
  3. Communication is indirect and negative feedback is hidden.

When I was traveling in Indonesia, I was so surprised with the visible, socially acceptable, wide and unequal disparity between the rich and poor. Therefore, creating the feeling of privilege for the rising middle class is important when we are launching a product aiming toward the upper-middle class users. HappyFresh is such an example. It targets the upper middle class people who wants to avoid the congested traffic in Jakarta, yet still want to have fresh vegetables and fruits on daily basis.

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The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintaining among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’. To my surprise, Indonesia has a lower score of individualism compared to China

The low score of individualism explains why Indonesian people has the highest propensity for offering recommendation via social media. They have high demands of group thinking when making purchase decisions. When their friends or families need their help on which product to buy, they are more  than willing to offer advice.

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A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational life.

A low score on this dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not highly looked upon. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people to  wanting to become the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine).

Indonesia scores 46 on this dimension and thus considered low Masculine. While not entirely like most North European countries who are very low in Masculinity and thus considered Feminine, Indonesia is less Masculine than some other Asian countries like Japan, China and India. In Indonesia, status and visible symbols of success are important but it is not always material gain that brings motivation. Incentives such as free time and flexibility are favoured.

Due to this reason, when analysing the reason why Lazada is more successful than Amazon in Indonesia, TechAsia demonstrates that one of the reasons is because Lazada is more focused on lifestyle product category,  such as apparel, personal care and home appliance, while Amazon still focuses on consumer electronics.

Uncertainty Avoidance   

The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can ever be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings upon a feeling of anxiety. With different cultures comes along with different ways of dealing with this sort of axiety. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by this ambiguity or unknown situations have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance.

The low score of Uncertainty Avoidance of Indonesian people suggest their willingness to try out new things, and also explains why this developing country has such a dynamic tech innovative landscape. It is what China was like ten years ago, when lots of western and Asian dominant start-up tech companies were so eager to participate in this rising market competition.  But who will win the heart of the Indonesian people? The current fierce competition between Uber, Grab and Go Jek might give us some insight because these three companies represent the current situation of how western, Asian and local companies compete with each other.

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Long Term Orientation 

This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future. Societies prioritise these two existential goals differently.

Indonesia’s score of 62 indicates that Indonesia also has a pragmatic culture. In societies with a pragmatic orientation,  people have a relatively strong sense to save and invest and to persevere in achieving results.

Due to this cultural feature, no wonder online payment method in Indonesian has such a low penetration. Every eCommerce company in Indonesia is trying to solve this problem. Lazada supports COD (Cash on Delivery), Tokopedia cooperates with 7-11 to launch its kiosk offline terminals. According to TechAsia analysis, in comparison with Uber, the reason why Grab has higher penetration in Indonesia in the first place is because Grab first supported offline cash payment method.

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This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained.

In the book Zero to One, Petter Thiel demonstrated that the U.S. used to be a defined as an optimistic country; however, now it is an indefinite optimistic country even though   most Americans behavior are very optimistic. In regards to the Chinese people, they are described as definite pessimistic ones. This probably explains why these two countries have such a big difference on this index.

The low score of 38 in this dimension shows that Indonesia has a culture of Restraint, just as China does. Societies with a low score in this dimension have a tendency to be more towards cynicism and pessimism. Also, in contrast to Indulgent societies, Restrained societies do not put much emphasis on leisure time and gratification upon their own desires. People with this orientation have the perception that their actions are Restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong.

Does this mean this idea of indulging yourself will never sell in Indonesia? As far as I understand, Chinese also enjoy indulge and is defined as an enjoyment in a more implicit setting.

Some Other Observations

# Social Media Capital

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Indonesian people love social media. In 2014, their capital city Jakarta produced the largest number of tweets in the world. When I was in Jakarta,  people were so stuck to their cellphones. This behaviour is unblamable due to the fact that Jakarta has the worst traffic in the world. When people get stuck on their way, what else could they do except from tweeting? As a user researcher for an eCommerce website, I actually hope they can do more online shopping instead. However, since many of them prefer driving motorcycles than cars, we really need to make sure our app’s user experience is good enough, or to say, one-hand friendly.

# Everyone loves Facebook

Indonesia has the fourth largest number of Facebook users around the world. Among every four of Indonesian people, three of them are Facebook users. This probably explains why it seems that Mark Zuckerberg is a good friend with president Joko Widodo.

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In Indonesia, mid-age housewives may not be familiar with online shopping, however, they must be Facebook savvy. During our interviews, they did not seem like they understand what wish-list meant, but when described it as something like the Like button on Facebook, they immediately understood what it meant. Therefore, my insight on this is that we design our product for usage on popular social media as a “guideline” more, instead of always sticking  to Amazon, who does not perform quite well in Indonesian market.

# Path is for Close Friends

When What’s app and Facebook is full of family members, young people need a more private space to share their social status.  Among 20 millions of Path users, 4 million are contributed by Indonesia. Path is a great choice.

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# Female Market is of Great Potential

As a Chinese young lady, it is hard for me to imagine in the world where ladies have the same income level as I do and are unknowledgable about purchasing products online. During our interviews, usability tests took extra hours for Indonesian females than males, due to these lack of online shopping experience. Just as what is shown below, Indonesia has far less female eCommerce users than China and the U.S. Though I felt there would be a lot of work for our interface to bd redesigned, I also felt so relieved. What a market of great potential Indonesia could be.

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Indonesia (Source: Statista)

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China (Source: Statista)

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The United States (Source: Statista)


There are lots of interesting observations and findings during my trip to Indonesia. However, I always feel like a foreigner because it is so hard for me to understand the country and people well enough within such a short period of time. I have to admit that this country and its friendly and gentle people really touch my heart. I really hope to spend more time in this country in the near future no matter the cost whether its to find my balance or to uncover more users’ insights.

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