Dos and don’ts of e-commerce

Dr Wong: Start small, work hard and persevere to build up your business.

SHE liked the cakes she bought online from a woman in her 20s. To Datuk Dr Wong Lai Sum, it is food for thought as well.

“I first saw the cakes on display at a tailoring accessories shop in Petaling Jaya.

“It turned out that the young e-commerce entrepreneur is the daughter of the shopowner,” she says.

That was two years ago. Since then, Dr Wong says the cakes have become even better and so has the business.

While e-commerce is the way forward, she points out that e-commerce is more than an online business transaction.

The perception that online business offers lots of freedom with people working in pyjamas or orders keep coming in, while the entrepreneur is holidaying, may be a distorted one.

“This woman bakes, promotes, markets and delivers the cakes. This is what a young start-up should do to build up the business,” she says, citing the case during an interview on the buzz about e-commerce.

She also offers advice for those aspiring to venture into the sector.

Dr Wong, who is the economic adviser to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and an associate professor with Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, says:

“Start small, work hard and persevere to build up your business.”

While e-commerce has a 40-year-history, she says it only started in earnest in Malaysia in 2011.

For now, Dr Wong says e-commerce comprises just 2% of all sales in Malaysia but the figure is set to rise to about 11% or 12% by 2020, underscoring the potential of the sector.

Like any sales, she points out that the conventional way of doing business, like interaction with clients offline, face-to-face promotion and marketing, remain an integral part of e-commerce.

“She goes to offices and provides free tasting of her cakes. She would also give her cakes to her friends to mark special occasions like birthdays.”

And, of course the cakes must be good, she says.

Knowing the market trend is another important aspect.

“For instance, consumers are increasingly discerning and health-conscious,” she says, adding that food with healthy ingredients is the preferred choice these days.

Dr Wong also emphasises on the need to research on the market to identify the type of product or service that has potential. Then, register a company to start the business.

There are also many e-commerce platforms to choose from.

Dr Wong, 62, who is a former CEO of Matrade (Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation), says products or services that can fulfil a need or solve problems will have good potential. She cites the humble lidi broomstick, which is in demand overseas for its effectiveness in getting household tasks done. That includes sweeping dried grass and leaves.

Dr Wong also says that organisations like Matrade offer information and advice. Thus, a start-up in particular should make use of such services.

Furthermore, participation in seminars, workshops and conferences can be helpful as they can provide a chance to network as well, she says.

While e-commerce started off with fashion, beauty and accessories, the categories have expanded widely in recent years especially those on food.

And for entrepreneurs, Dr Wong has one standard advice: always make sure that there is rice on the plate for the people. There is only business when there are customers.


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