Adding the ‘e’ to commerce

The future: Shye Kang Loh (right) and Lim Chee How are confident data analytics will one day be used by all the major retailers in Malaysia.

The future: Shye Kang Loh (right) and Lim Chee How are confident data analytics will one day be used by all the major retailers in Malaysia.

E-commerce is definitely growing in Malaysia. Consumer market research company Euromonitor has projected that Malaysia’s e-commerce market will be worth US$560mil (RM1.99bil) by 2016.

Internet spending today has multiplied, thanks to the various smart devices carried by the average person, and it is no longer just for those who are tech-savvy.

With the Government playing a pivotal role in promoting Internet-based retail market and mobile consumption in Malaysia through the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), online shopping is expected to grow even more in Malaysia.

These days it’s not unusual that new startups are more focused on selling their goods and services in cyberspace instead of a physical store.

Cost is always cited as the main reason for this preference, but modern technology also enables startups to gather and analyse statistics and information on customers. This, in turn, helps new companies to serve customers better.

Kiara Supermarket director, Mohamed Faizal, said in an earlier interview with The Star that the future of the retail industry is to bring everything online and provide an interactive experience to consumers.

However, despite the rapid growth of e-commerce and Faizal’s sentiment, not all SMEs are jumping on the bandwagon. Statistics show that only 30% of SMEs in Malaysia have a website, and more than 70% say they are not considering having a website for various reasons.

While there are plenty of smaller companies that do without a website and e-commerce, using a little technology probably wouldn’t hurt. This is where companies like Ebizu Sdn Bhd and TapWay Sdn Bhd hope to step in.

The two companies are working to revolutionise traditional brick-and-mortar businesses by allowing them to connect with customers at a different level via technology.

In the retail world, choosing a store’s location is perhaps the most important decision a small business owner or startup will make, but in a crowded marketplace such as a mall or office district, even business owners in a good location need an edge to stand out.

Ebizu’s system allows merchants to identify shoppers who are nearby, and it provides these potential customers with product information and the latest deals on their smartphones.

The company says that its technology is suited for businesses of all sizes as it is can be scaled and customised. Ebizu also offers business tools to helps merchants know more about the visitors to their stores, and the data can even be used to create a “heat map” to identify the areas of a shop or mall frequented by customers.

Along the same lines, TapWay is looking to arm brick-and-mortar stores with more detailed consumer insights.

“Look at it as Google analytics but for physical stores,” says TapWay co-founder Shye Kang Loh.

Google Analytics is a service offered by the search engine to measure website traffic and its sources for websites. It also measures data such as conversions and sales.

For example, an online store owner would know things like how a customer came to a website and how long the customer browsed before eventually making a purchase. Other data may include location, ethnicity, age and gender.

“Whenever we look through TripAdvisor or purchase something via Amazon, they do a great job in remembering who you are, what you bought and recommend items based on your previous purchase.

Unless it is a very small store in a small community, you are not going to get the same experience in most brick-and-mortar stores. This is where we come in,” Shye says.

TapWay provides WiFi-based store analytics by gaining insights from walk-by traffic, visitor traffic, capture rates, average visit duration, customer retention rate and many other essential information.

Once the system is set up using CCTV cameras and WiFi presence and triangulation technology, store owners and workers can have a better overview of what is happening in the store.

In fact, the data is able to generate a heat map that show how many shoppers are in each area of a shop.

“If a consumer logs on to a store’s Wifi, he or she has to do so via Facebook or Twitter. Once the customer is logged on, the store can send alerts and use real-time campaign based on the customer’s store visit behaviour,” explained Shye.

Asked about privacy concerns, Shye says the store cannot access any information that is not shared publicly.

“Our facial recognition software tells us only if you are smiling, your gender and age,” he adds.

Just as with Google Analytics, a store that has engaged TapWay’s services gets data that can be acted upon. TapWay is offering three service packages, starting from RM100 per month.

“With all the data available, marketeers can do things like act upon storefront displays and see what really attracts consumers.

Footfall data can advise store owners on peak periods and can help them prepare their employees,” says TapWay co-founder Lim Chee How.

Although not the first to develop such a service, TapWay is certainly gaining traction in Malaysia.

Having secured a RM150,000 Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) ICON grant and another RM150,000 from angel investors, the company believes store analytics is the future of retail and will be looking to expand to Singapore in the near future.

“We are looking to raise another RM500,000 for our expansion plans. Someday almost every major retailer in Malaysia would rely on data like this to serve customers better,” says Lim.

Central Region , Nevash Nair , tapway , retail