By Kay Tan

Let’s be honest here – the COVID-19 crisis that is currently happening across all countries is growing at an alarming rate. The reported number of cases daily does not show any sign of slowing down despite efforts taken by governments.

With the majority of businesses grinding to a halt, we are left unsure of the impact of the extended lockdown and travel ban. However, one thing we can be very sure of, the consequences of this crisis will likely be prolonged for at least another 6 months.

This will pose a lot of difficulties and challenges to businesses, particularly SMEs with no or minimised cash inflow and having to continue paying full salary, rental, and other statutory payments.

That alone is considered bad enough. But the stigma of the COVID-19 still looms large. There will be a shift in behaviour change with social distancing, people avoiding large crowds, and consumers shifting their priorities in terms of purchasing goods that matters to them most.

Just as I was speaking to a good friend of mine who owns a chain of retail shops that sell children’s toys, his exact words were, “people will not buy toys for a long, long time”. The COVID-19 crisis has forced many businesses to adapt to the ‘new normal’ for operations. While buying toys may no longer be a top priority to consumers, momentous celebrations like birthdays or rewarding our kids for accomplishing a set goal still exist. And this is an opportunity for businesses like my friend of mine to find new ways to reach out to parents and other family members for purchases.

Thus, it is time for SMEs to think innovatively and creatively. By finding other means and channels to market their products better, SMEs can reach out to more customers. One important area that SMEs should consider is to transition and optimize their business growth, with both offline and online channels. And here are the 3 good reasons.

Your business never sleeps – stay operational 24/7, all year-long

Imagine what is it to have at least 50 percent of 26.69 million Internet users in Malaysia know about your business online. Taking in the fact that your business stays operational throughout the whole year, it gives the flexibility to your customers to place an order at any time. You will soon realize that transitioning your business from offline to online is certainly worthwhile.

By having a simple website or even hopping on to social media, you can show the products and services that you offer. Your website or social media site will then serve as a channel to generate leads and inquiries. This increases the chances for you to reach out to more potential customers. They can find or reach out to you, especially in times like this when more and more users are taking a safer route to buy their necessities online, including food, groceries, and have them delivered right at the doorstep.

Ability to reach a wider audience

Having an online presence means that you can reach a wider group of potential customers than you are likely to attract locally. Besides, you are giving an alternative for customers to find you easily. With plenty of information available in your online platform, it allows them to make a quick and informed decision.

For micro-business, you can ride on any online marketplace platforms, as they provide a whole suite of tools for businesses where they provide A-Z facilities such as marketing, promotion, logistics and fulfilment, inventory management, and even training. For SMEs with a bigger budget, you can invest in building a fully customized website with a built-in payments function that fully integrates with your in-store system.

Some businesses have even gone to social media to market their products, where it is enabled by the advancement of video technology and better connectivity. For better, organized billing and payment, these businesses can also leverage on payment gateways which use either QR codes or a specific link.

Take the fresh seafood and fishery industry in Malaysia as an example. It is used to be a ‘see-it and feel-it’ experience before one buys. Today, consumers prefer to buy seafood online and have them delivered directly to their doorstep. Unlike the usual online seafood retail, business owners are taking a new leap to reach a wider audience group through live video via various platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and many more. That includes selling seafood through live auctions. And their sales have seen a marked increase.

Better customer experience – cultivating lasting relationships

The Internet has grown so big that people are spending more time sifting through tons of information to find things relevant to their interests. In an age of information overload, SMEs need to stand out to differentiate themselves from the competition. And one way to do so is to give the best customers’ experience by taking that offline experience online.

Over the last two weeks, I spoke to some of KipleBiz’s clients who are mainly SMEs on the impact of this pandemic outbreak on their business. Many have acknowledged the challenges of doing business in times like this. Yet, I was amazed by the persistence of these business owners who have opted to go all out and innovate, including getting their business online quickly and incorporating payment gateway solutions to reach their customers better.

This is coupled with providing quick customer service by responding to each and every inquiry, processing orders more speedily, issuing e-invoices within a day, and the best thing of all, payment transactions can happen immediately with a wide range of payment options. In addition, business owners can better plan their inventory and products as they have better insights into their customers’ behaviour and preferences based on the data that is generated automatically.

That’s not all. Another key reason that SMEs should ride on the digital wave is that your competitors are now also online. While some may still be sceptical about having their business online due to several factors, let us take a look at these numbers:

  • Annual sales in Malaysia’s e-commerce market jumped 47.8 percent in 2017.
  • The Malaysian e-commerce market for 2019 generated a revenue of US$3.68 billion (RM15.2 billion)
  • E-commerce in Malaysia is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 24 percent through to 2021.
  • Internet penetration in Malaysia is at 80.1 percent, higher than many other South East Asian countries.

Adding to the government’s initiatives to accelerate the cashless and digital agenda with several frameworks introduced such as National E-Commerce Strategic Roadmap, the growth rate of e-commerce is expected to see exponential growth.

So, to all SMEs, if it is not now to have your business online, then when?

Kay Tan is Chief Executive Officer of KiplePay Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Green Packet Berhad.

Image credit: Career Employer


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