Ecommerce 101: Looking Beyond Brick-and-Mortar Stores By Building Your Business’s Digital Presence
THE ONSET of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront a common weakness among companies across every industry - a lack of online presence. It is undisputed that being digitally visible is necessary for businesses of all sizes. At a time such as now, where movements are restricted and people stay home, ensuring that your customers are aware of your business’s existence is absolutely vital. Sustaining the business is just as vital. A good product or service can easily go unnoticed when your target market is unable to access them via online channels.
Online presence isn’t simply having a website or Facebook account for your business. It is visibility throughout the web, extending into business directories, emails, blog posts, photos, videos and all mentions of your business on the internet. The topic of online presence has often come hand in hand with digitalisation, especially during this COVID-19 climate.
The growth of ecommerce in Malaysia means that more people are doing their shopping online. According to data retrieved on datareportal.com, as of January 2020, 82% of internet users between the ages of 16 to 64 have purchased a minimum of one product online. Therefore, you risk losing a significant portion of your customer base when your business is absent from the online space.
Furthermore, being digitally absent results in a limited reach of your brand. In the same data, 91% of internet users aged 16 to 64 years old were active users of social media. That’s a large pool of potential customers you miss out on engaging with when you stay offline.
In such a fast-paced and digitalised world, having little to no online presence leaves you behind your competitors as they are able to promote new services and products in real time and quickly provide their customers with information.
Ecommerce was already experiencing impressive growth prior to the pandemic outbreak and COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated its adoption. In 2019, the sector in the ASEAN region was worth over US$38 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV), an almost 600% growth from its US$5.5 billion worth in 2015. In that same year, the sector was projected to be the fastest growing in the region with a 39% growth between 2015 and 2025.
With the pandemic potentially changing the purchasing habits of individuals permanently and online shopping establishing itself as the reality of the new normal, more people rely on ecommerce for their retail therapy. Thus, possessing a strong digital footprint is non-negotiable.
It is without a question that many businesses, particularly those operating out of brick-and-mortar, were severely affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued. After the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO), some of these businesses were completely inaccessible to their customers and subsequently witnessed a complete halt to their sales. The irreversible changes caused by COVID-19 triggered business owners to consider all avenues to sustain and that included bringing their offline businesses online.
One such example was Kee Keat and his kedai runcit, 303 Runcit. After 30 years of selling grocery items in Penang, he transformed his business when the pandemic hit by creating an online store for 303 Runcit, and he did it with the help of Exabytes. Since doing so, his business has received regular orders from his existing loyal customer base and new customers from Kuala Lumpur too. Building a web storefront for 303 Runcit allowed him to break the physical barrier of running a business.
Kee Keat’s quickness to digitalise is an example to follow. Considering the sales value of wholesale and retail trade in Malaysia dropping 36.6% year-on-year (y-o-y) while online retail sales increased 28.9% y-o y in April 2020 according to Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), there is no reason to hesitate building an online presence for your business.
For some businesses, sustaining and recovering are still problems to tackle. Between 10 April and 1 May 2020, DOSM surveyed 4,094 companies and found that only 25.4% of the businesses could last for three to six months amid the MCO. 42.5% of these companies responded in the same survey that they would require more than six months to recover. The relatively high percentages of businesses detrimentally-affected by the MCO reflects the urgent need to have a strong web presence.
Exabytes responded to this need with our Sama-Sama Digital initiative that we launched in August 2020 to help Bumiputera SMEs that have been affected by the pandemic digitalise their businesses. As the leading cloud & digital solutions provider in Southeast Asia, we offer two (2) business e-solutions with the initiative, targeting businesses that want to begin their digitalising journey or want to further grow their businesses online.
The solutions offered under Sama-Sama Digital, which cover web design and digital marketing, exemplify that effective online presence must be thorough. Setting up a website is just the beginning and must be complemented with other measures to guarantee your business is noticed and remembered by your customers.
Here are some tips from me:
- Register in Business Directories
Online directories allow customers to search your business. Claim your company and ensure that all the relevant information is up-to-date - location, website links, business hours, contact information. Customers are more likely to trust directories and listing your business can improve your website rankings in local searches.
- Design a Mobile-Friendly Website
More and more people are becoming active mobile users. It’s wise to prioritise creating mobile-friendly content to accommodate these users. Optimising websites for smartphones will widen your reach to prospective customers.
- Be Active on Social Media
Social media platforms are the best way to engage with your customers. Consider the most effective channel(s) for your brand - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube - and leverage on them. Post regularly and interact with customers who leave comments on your page. Not to forget, always respond to DMs on your social media, don’t leave your customers hanging.
- Invest in Online Advertising
Long gone were the days where traditional advertising means forking out thousands of ringgit just to be on television or a billboard. Now, competing in the digital space means investing in search engine optimisation (SEO), managed Facebook ads, managed Google ads, email marketing and so much more.
- Create Valuable Content
Whether it's a website or social media account, make sure your contents are engaging to your customers. Remember, you want people to talk about your products or services and the company. And to ensure this is done right, always go back to your marketing goals, and produce contents that hit your target audience.
Online presence is no longer avoidable for your business’s success, particularly in an era where ecommerce is booming. With the COVID-19 pandemic expediting the adoption of ecommerce, companies that delay digitalising or do not digitalise altogether lose out on potential sales, making it difficult to even survive the pandemic.
Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) have been introducing various initiatives and programmes to further the rate in which Malaysian businesses digitalise. Most recently, the agency launched the Digital Xccelerator (DX) platform for SMEs to scale up their digital transformation journey. Additionally, MDEC has eUsahawan under their belt, a program that educates digital entrepreneurship values to micro, rural and youth entrepreneurs.
Alongside MDEC’s other initiatives, including 100 Go Digital and SME Business Digitalisation Grant, the government has also emphasised growing the local digital economy in its Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA). These measures proposed to counter the severe impact of the pandemic on Malaysian businesses are further proof of the necessity to be online.
Building and maintaining a footprint on the web must be comprehensive and consistent to enhance your business’s exposure and edge out your competitors. The online space is a valuable resource to the success of your brand. As more and more people shop online and will continue to do so as an irreversible byproduct of the pandemic, it is a must to ensure your business is digitally visible. - DagangNews.com
Chan Kee Siak is the Founder and CEO of Exabytes Group. He started Exabytes at 19 years old after discovering the potential of web hosting. Under his leadership, today the Exabytes Group consists of 12 subsidiaries, with businesses ranging from web hosting to eCommerce and eDeliveries, serving over 140,000 businesses with over 1 million users in 121 countries. Chan is also co-founder of EasyParcel, EasyStore, EasyWork, EasySpace and an angel investor in several startups.