The new normal: How Sugu Pavithra and other Malaysians adapted and thrived with digital tools during Covid-19 pandemic

Pavithra regularly shares videos on food recipes like curry chicken, sambal dishes and dessert. — Screengrab from YouTube/Sugu Pavithra

At the start of the movement control order (MCO) period back in March, Nadhir Ashafiq recalled how strict social distancing measures affected his lorry-for-hire service.

“As our business was focused on helping clients move house, we suffered a downward trend. However, we can’t rest and just be passive,” Nadhir, the co-founder of The Lorry, said during a livestream session organised by Google Malaysia.

Nadhir said he looked up what people were searching for during MCO and realised that there was a lot of interest for grocery delivery services.

He decided to start offering grocery delivery services during MCO, where users can turn to the lorry-for-hire service’s webpage and get items like frozen food and baby products delivered to their doorsteps.

The approach paid off as The Lorry recorded a 180% increase in new customer acquisition. Nadhir’s advice to others going through difficulties during this time is to simply never give up.

“We had this mindset that we will continue to persevere no matter what happens,” he said.

Klang-based social enterprise Langit Collective said it was also affected by the strict social distancing measures under MCO when consumers couldn’t travel to stores that carried their products. Langit Collective sells items such as rice and black pepper that it sourced from farmers living in rural areas in Sabah and Sarawak.

“We have an e-commerce site that was not contributing much to our total revenue,” said Melisa Lim, chief marketing officer of Langit Collective.

Lim shared that Langit Collective then needed to focus on growing its online presence and produced more video content as part of an effort to introduce the business to potential consumers online. She added that the company also implemented a virtual sales person to assist consumers going through its website.

“We used a lot of Google Analytics to figure out what information our consumers were looking for. Then we used that information to tailor content or provide services that may be relevant to them,” she said.

Langit Collective’s efforts to create a whole new online experience for consumers helped to improve sales by 81.3% compared to the previous quarter. Lim said she is now looking towards a collaborative approach with other relevant services and businesses to expand the company’s reach.

Finding success on YouTube

While S. Pavithra may not be a businessperson, just like Nadhir and Lim, she too turned to the Internet to find ways to adapt to the new normal during MCO.

In January, Pavithra and her husband M. Sugu started a YouTube channel with the help of a neighbour and all they wanted to do was share cooking recipes. Her first video was about ikan bakar (grilled fish).

“The earnings in US dollars from YouTube were attractive to us and since I could do this from home, we thought to give this a try,” she said.

More than six months later, the Sugu Pavithra channel now has over 760,000 subscribers and the duo has been hailed as an MCO success story because their following grew significantly during the strict social distancing period.

Viewers, who were then mostly stuck at home, tuned in to learn how to cook local dishes with Pavithra and her husband, whose simple, down-to-earth approach was the recipe to their unexpected success.

“YouTube has changed our lives. I never thought that we’d come to a point in our lives where we would need a manager to help handle calls and requests for appointments,” she shared.

Sugu has since quit his job working at a farm to focus on producing content full-time. They have also moved out from the estate to a new home near Sungai Siput, Perak.

“We used to live normally and could do whatever we want. But our lives have also changed in the way that we have more commitments now. I’m very grateful for everything. My plan is just to go with the flow. Hopefully we can produce more exciting food news for our viewers,” Pavithra said, adding that there are also plans to open up an eatery in the future.

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