Bridging online, offline retailing

DUE to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns in 2020, retail businesses had to scramble to go online in order to regain sales and survive, while work-from-home workers adapted to shopping online.

Lazada Malaysia chief marketing officer Diana Boo noted that the online shopping platform saw a 300% increase in new sellers on-board last year, via its Pakej Kedai Pintar stimulus plan which aimed to assist local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to sell online.

“The overall digital economy has grown. We’re not the only e-commerce platform. There are many small businesses that have gone online. And even after the movement control order (MCO) was lifted, consumers continue to stay online, ” said Boo at the Smart Retail: Powering Nation’s Digital Economy two-day live virtual conference, held at end-March.

Boo was among the panellists at the “Women in Retail” discussion which was moderated by StarBiz deputy news editor Yvonne Tan.

Other panellists were FashionValet and The dUCK Group co-founder Vivy Yusof and Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) CEO Surina Shukri.

Vivy said that 2020 was a very challenging year and her companies had to be very smart in product pivots, to cater to the changed consumer landscape.

“It wasn’t ideal but we had to do a lot of discounts, we had to do bundles, and whatever we could. We changed up the products - to more loungewear, more essentials like sanitisers, masks, and easier to wear scarves, ” said Vivy.

Surina said among MDEC’s initiatives to help SMEs overcome the challenge of digital transformation, was a nationwide campaign under the government’s Penjana stimulus plan to partner with private sector companies in order to onboard micro-SMEs onto online sites.

Surina also spoke about MDEC’s eUsahawan programme, which is to assist Malaysian youths and micro entrepreneurs in digital entrepreneurship.

“Over the years, we helped train 365,000 people - 65% of them are female entrepreneurs. In the rural e-commerce space, last year we started piloting one-stop digital centres and 79% of the participants are female entrepreneurs. We’re certainly very excited and encouraged by the statistics regarding female representation, ” she said.

The conference ended with the “What’s in Store for Retail in 2021?” discussion that was moderated by Willem Smit, who is an assistant professor of marketing at the Asia School of Business.

Joining the discussion were ADA regional head of business insights Vittorio Furlan, The Food Purveyor CEO Geoff King, Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA) president Shirley Tay and Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs secretary general Datuk Seri Hasnol Zam Zam Ahmad.

Tay pointed out that Generation Z (those born from the late 1990s to early 2010s) are changing the retail arena.

“Gen Z are very knowledgeable, well informed, and many of them are financially secure thanks to parents who have fewer children, ” she said.

Tay also said that retailers need to have omni-channel strategies to reach customers, and said, “Connectivity and engagement with consumers will still be the top priority.”

King also noted that the food retail industry had seen a much bigger growth in online commerce in 2020.

“We used to pride ourselves by having a smiling butcher, explaining about the cuts of meat and how to cook it - now, we have to think about how to do that online. So, the customer still needs to be entertained and educated and served, ” said King.

Hasnol pointed out that there are many funds available within government ministries and agencies to support various sub sectors within industries.

“That is something that industry players should try to benefit from. The government is always willing to listen to new ideas and new ways on how the retail industry can be further assisted, ” he said.

Meanwhile, automation and live chats have been crucial in customer support channels during the lockdowns in 2020.

AirAsia chief customer happiness officer Adam Geneave said an enormous challenge over the last 12 months for the low cost carrier’s customer support teams was the huge jump in the volume of cases.

“We had to quickly pivot the way that we were talking to our customers. We focused on increasing automation to give customers the ability to self-serve, primarily through the AVA chatbot. We have seen much better customer satisfaction. At the end of the day, customers want this fast interaction, ” said Geneave who was among the panellists at the Customer Experience Industry Panel discussion.

Other panellists were fast fashion retailer Love, Bonito Malaysia country director Joan Yeoh and Ninja Van Malaysia chief operating officer Lin Zheng.

Lin said due to the MCO, the logistics company pushed more customers to its live chat team.

“When we started live chat, it was only about 5% to 10% of our contact points. Now, it is 30%. Customers are also happier because they get the response sooner, ” said Lin.

Regarding Love, Bonito Malaysia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Yeoh said the company tested and trialled store-to-door services.

“There are customers, mainly in Malaysia, who really didn’t feel like shopping online. We provided the option for them to pick up stuff from the stores and deliver to them. And that retained a lot of our loyal offline retail customers, ” said Yeoh.

Regarding challenges in driving digital transformation in organisations, QSR Brands group chief information officer CK Chong said topping his list was acquiring the right technology and recruiting talent.

“Getting talent like data scientists in Malaysia is very difficult. Our strategy now is to work with technology partners from overseas. We need to create more technology talent in the country, ” said Chong who was among the panellists at the Digital Operations Industry Panel discussion.

Other panellists were AEON Retail CEO Shafie Shamsuddin, and Heineken Malaysia digital and technology director Janina Vriesekoop.

Vriesekoop said she preferred a hybrid of remote working and work on-premises.

“To be honest, we had a trust issue in the beginning regarding remote working. But we see the results. They’re more effective and working harder from home. The time being spent on the work itself is much more productive, ” she said.

Shafie said the future would see a mix of offline and online retail.

“It is important for us to envision that in the future, 30 to 40% of our workforce will continue to work from home or from everywhere. The digital transformation will continue to be important, and we need to continue to build our infrastructure, ” he said.

Meanwhile, Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford gave a presentation entitled “Retailing in New Zealand through the lows and highs of Covid-19”.

“Before Covid-19 hit us, we think about 45% of retailers in New Zealand had no e-commerce capability. While we were at the first of the most severe lockdowns, e-commerce was not permitted either. We saw about an 80% fall in retail sales over that period, ” Harford recalled.

“And what we saw really through that period was huge innovation as retailers rushed to go digital and businesses going online for the first time.”

Harford estimated that presently, about 17% of retail sales by volume are done through e-commerce channels.

However, he thinks that New Zealand consumers will still want to go to physical shops “to touch and feel the goods that they want, and I don’t think that’s going to go away anytime soon.”

The Smart Retail: Powering Nation’s Digital Economy was organised by Star Media Group Bhd with ADA, Brightcove, DAPAT Vista and Forter as Terabyte Partners, and Credit Guarantee Corp Malaysia Bhd and TIME Dotcom Bhd as Gigabyte Partners.

KPMG in Malaysia and NielsenIQ were the Knowledge Partners, eLearningMinds was the E-Learning Partner and sendQuick was the Mobile Messaging Partner.

You may watch the playback of all sessions on

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Bridging , online , offline , Malaysia , MCO , normal , Covid-19 , pandemic , Surina , Lazada ,


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