By Ida Nadirah Ibrahim
THE Covid-19 pandemic shocked the world when it first emerged in late 2019 and very quickly moved to paralyse global activities in its path. Entire industries, from travel to construction, came to almost a halt.
However, while the coronavirus did impair many sectors, it accelerated the advancement of digital technology, helping, in the process, to save thousands of jobs in sectors like retail and education.
The Selangor government leveraged this. It took the opportunity to speed up its smart state vision, and went on an offensive to help digitalise the businesses of entrepreneurs and small traders in the state.
To date, RM360 million has been allocated for this effort.
Among its many initiatives to achieve wide-scale digitalisation for the people of Selangor, its collaboration with leading e-commerce platform Shopee stands out, not just in terms of economic returns but in the number of lives they have helped to change.
Shopee is no stranger to most Malaysians. The multinational company has been a lifeline for many shoppers forced to adhere to the country’s movement control orders.
Shopee regional managing director Ian Ho said in 2020, the Malaysian e-commerce sector contributed an estimated 7 per cent to total retail in the country, but there is certainly room for the industry to grow.
The 7 per cent is modest when compared to e-commerce figures in some other countries like China, where 40 per cent of its population buy things online.
The global average is 16 per cent.
Ho said Shopee remains steadfast in capturing the potential of the Malaysian economy and this can be done through collaborations between the private and public sectors, particularly in speeding up digitalisation in industries that are lagging behind.
“Malaysia has solid banking, internet and logistics infrastructure as well as a business-friendly environment. In other words, we are in a good place to do better and the environment is favourable for the growth of the digital economy.
“The most difficult part for any business in starting their digitalisation journey is to take the business online and that is just the first step. The real challenge in e-commerce is to bring in footfall or visitors to their online platform,” said Ho in an email response to Selangor Journal. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ho said, has caused businesses to learn to equip themselves to become more agile and prepared in handling a crisis.
“Businesses are now future-proofing themselves more than ever and realise the importance of digitalisation. Therefore, we think that businesses are unlikely to deprioritise online even if things go back to what they used to be,” he said.
A private-public partnership
Ho said for retailers to achieve a good online strategy, Shopee, with the Selangor government, has worked to focus on three factors.
They are to get more traders to set up their e-commerce store; assist them with vouchers, free shipping, marketing campaigns and exposure to give them visibility; and provide ongoing training for free via Shopee University on how to provide better quality services.
The state government has to date, done four campaign collaborations with Shopee: the Selangor e-Bazar Raya 2020, the Selangor e-Bazar 11.11 Mega Sales, the Selangor e-Bazar CNY 2021, and the Selangor e-Bazar Raya 2021.
“Through these four initiatives, we have digitised over 40,000 and supported more than 200,000 Selangor-based traders and small and medium businesses (SMEs).
“As part of our commitment to this partnership, we converted 100 per cent of the Selangor government’s assistance into vouchers to spur the sales of the participating sellers, which have collectively generated sales amounting to RM77.25 million,” he said.
Ho said there is a lot of room to get more local SMEs on board to e-commerce, especially manufacturers.
He said some of the larger-scale manufacturers that are used to selling offline would reap benefits in taking their business online to reach a larger audience. Unfortunately, many are hesitant due to the idea of legacy.
“In those cases, the government can nudge these businesses perhaps with bigger tax rebates or waivers. “As for smaller SMEs, without the capacity to hire e-commerce experts or form an e-commerce team, it boils down to training and that is something we already provide for free via Shopee University,” said Ho.
The training is inclusive of a three-level course with over 30 different modules that teaches how to write product descriptions, how to take good photos, and how to market the products.
Ho said Shopee is also working on encouraging the digitalisation of offline business operations to use their mobile wallet ShopeePay, which helps business owners to upgrade from manual bookkeeping.
Playing a crucial role
Shopee, said Ho, will continue their focus to play a major role in Malaysia’s e-commerce and digital economy as the demand is expected to remain robust as more Malaysians switch to online purchasing.
He said the growing confidence of Malaysians in adopting e-commerce can be seen in their purchasing habits where the people are making online transactions for a range of services, from buying fresh produce to insurance packages, making bookings for a vehicle, as well as paying utility bills and student loans.
“E-commerce has evolved and it will continue to. Nevertheless, it is now more crucial than ever that we remain committed to providing accessibility, convenience and value to our users.
“Shopee’s aim has always been to change lives and impact the communities that we are in with our technology,” he said.
While Ho was unable to reveal any specifics on future collaboration with the Selangor administration, he said the Shopee will continue on with initiatives that would aim to help Selangor entrepreneurs leverage the potential of e-commerce and the digital economy in order to become future-ready.
“We look forward to continuing our efforts with the Selangor state government to support their vision to make Selangor a liveable Smart state by 2025,” he added.
This article first appeared in the Selangor Journal monthly June edition (e-paper), published on May 31, 2021.