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Sunday December 23, 2007

Web retail therapy

Acmamall.com is giving book lovers what they want and they’re coming back for more.

CHRISTOPHER Quek does not mind comparisons with Amazon.com.

“I would love it if people thought of us as the Amazon.com of the east,” the 29-year-old CEO of Acmamall.com Sdn Bhd said with a laugh. “It would be a dream come true. “

Parallels with the online shopping behemoth are inevitable for those who have followed the development of Acmamall.com.

Starting out as Acmabooks.com in 2000, the website attracted a number of book lovers in Malaysia for its policy of quoting prices and shipping costs in ringgit.

“Books are a product that people can relate to,” Quek explained. “Also, the wide variety we were able to offer meant that there was usually something for everyone.”

Browse and buy: The book section at Acmamall.com offers customers over a million titles.

Having achieved a measure of success as one of the pioneers of e-commerce in the Southeast Asian region, the website started adding more categories to its offerings – just like Amazon did.

Now, the rebranded Acmamall.com offers a plethora of products ranging from health- and hair care products to confectionary and lingerie.

“Books are still our core,” Quek said. “However, we’re also doing very well with DVDs, healthcare products and flowers and gifts.”

The website must be striking the right chord with online shoppers as Acmamall.com has registered a 150% increase in its Malaysian customer base this year alone.

The main thing, Quek emphasised, was to give customers what they wanted.

“We do listen to our customers’ requests,” he said. “And where we can supply products that meet our standards of quality, we’re happy to offer them on the website.”

While some, this writer included, might scoff at the thought of ordering chocolates online, Quek has proof to the contrary.

“You might not think it, but our flowers and confectionery are extremely popular, especially among business people who want to send out gifts.

“One of our customers is a businessman in Penang who regularly sends chocolates to his clients in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

It is customers like this Penang businessman that has fuelled Acmamall.com’s growth through the years and affirmed Quek’s belief in e-commerce.

“No doubt about it, the potential of e-commerce in this region is enormous and it has become ubiquitous in our daily lives – banking, booking airline and cinema tickets, for example.

“The number of Internet-savvy people is also rising and the Internet has been a boon to people who lead busy lives,” he added.

More importantly for Quek, e-commerce allows anyone who has an Internet connection anywhere to shop at Acmamall.com.

“Eighty percent of our customers live outside the Klang Valley,” Quek said. “Through Acmamall.com, people outside the Klang Valley now have access to products that those living here take for granted.”

While Acmamall.com has worked to be the must-visit site for those shopping online, Quek acknowledged that one of the website’s biggest challenges is to attract new shoppers.

“There are slightly resistant people,” Quek said. “People who for some reason or another refuse to shop online.”

While education could make a difference, Quek’s solution is to make shopping at Acmamall.com as painless as possible.

“We want online shopping to be an enjoyable experience for everyone who visits us. For example, we have easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions on our website for first-time customers,” Quek explained.

“We also have a help line for people to call to find out more about online shopping because, sometimes, they prefer to talk to someone. Each month, between 20 and 30 people call up to find out more.”

Quek made this reassurance to those who have reservations about making payments online: “We are very, very careful about online payments – all credit card information, for example, is submitted directly to our banks.

“At the same time, we also have other equally convenient payment methods, like paying directly into our bank account or through Maybank2u.com.”

Quek says the company is planning to expand to other countries.

After seven years and more than 70,000 orders later, Acmamall.com has certainly got its act together, right down to ensuring that its deliveries are safe and secure.

“We have four logistics partners who we work with closely and we guarantee that our deliveries will get to you in mint condition,” Quek said.

While much has been done, for Quek and his team, the Acmamall.com story is far from done.

“This year (2007) was mainly about focusing on and developing the Malaysian market, but we are making plans for the future,” he said.

Among others, a Bahasa Malaysia portal is being developed and, at the same time, Acmamall.com is actively seeking partners for its operations in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.

Another new development is what Quek calls “book reseller”.

“There are around 670 booksellers of various sizes around Malaysia. Many just cater to their respective local communities and are unable to carry a wide range of books.

“If these booksellers have customers looking for specific titles that they don’t have, they can always contact us. After all, we offer a million titles on our website and we’re more than happy to supply the books.”

It is this sort of symbiotic relationship between online business and the traditional brick-and-mortar shops that has Quek excited about e-commerce.

“Once, a customer called up and explained that he had earlier searched for a book in a major bookstore and, unable to find it there, was advised by the store’s staff to get in touch with us instead.

“I think that’s a nice compliment, don’t you?”

  • Acmamall.com can be contacted at 03-4106 216, or check out www.acmamall.com.

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