As all-Bumi IT mall opens, Chinese Low Yat traders admit may lose out on Malay customers

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (second right) visits a kiosk during the opening of the Mara Digital mall in Kuala Lumpur, December 8, 2015. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (second right) visits a kiosk during the opening of the Mara Digital mall in Kuala Lumpur, December 8, 2015. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10  — Ethnic Chinese traders at Low Yat Plaza are concerned that the new all-Bumiputera MARA Digital Mall could snatch away most of their Malay customers as the community continues to boycott the once-popular tech hub in Bukit Bintang after a racial brawl broke out there in July.

Most traders polled by Malay Mail Online said that they are concerned the new mall—once dubbed “Low Yat 2”—could drive down their business significantly, noting that Malay presence in Low Yat Plaza has decreased since the violent incident took place.

“If you ask me to be honest, yes of course we are a bit worried. Since the incident, there have been fewer Malay customers. Even until today,” said 27-year-old Kent, a senior sales executive with a vendor for a computer giant.

The all-Bumiputera tech mall, located less than 7km away from Low Yat Plaza, officially started operating yesterday after a glitzy opening, with state-owned media giving it full coverage, including a front-page feature on Malay broadsheet Utusan Malaysia.

The media blitzkrieg was apparently intended to promote the new mall, initiated as a Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) programme as part of the federal government’s effort to promote Bumiputera venture into the information technology retail market otherwise dominated by Malaysia’s minority Chinese.

Kent has yet to pay the competitors a visit, nor was he aware that the new mall is at least three times smaller than Low Yat Plaza.

But despite having the advantage of being the first tech hub in the capital city offering among the most competitive prices for tech goods in Kuala Lumpur and even Selangor, the sales executive said the new MARA mall has a key advantage—racial sentiment.

“As far as prices are concerned, the suppliers are usually strict with the prices. So even if there is, say, an Acer vendor there, prices of the goods would likely be more or less the same.

“Who can provide the added incentives, like more RAM or extended warranties, is how we compete... but still, there is the race issue,” he said while shrugging his shoulders and smiling.

“What to do?” he added.

Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob disclosed at the launch of the MARA Digital Mall yesterday that vendors were given six months’ free rental as incentive to help them cut cost, and allow them to have prices relatively lower than their competitors.

Mariza, a sales executive with Chinese smartphone firm Oppo, shared the same sentiment, saying while the price margins for their products between the two malls will not be significant, racial sentiment could be the deciding factor that would keep Malays away from Low Yat Plaza.

“The [boycott] is still going on. We still see fewer Malays here after the incident. I think we can’t lie. There are concerns that this [situation] will stay, we would lose out to the new mall,” the Malay graduate told Malay Mail Online.

Acer and Oppo showrooms are among the few already operating at the MARA Digital Mall, with other giants like Apple and Samsung slated to start up sometime later this month.

Some, however, are confident that Low Yat Plaza can retain much of its business and that they would still be able to compete with “Low Yat 2.”

“It all boils down to who can provide the best deals and I think we have the advantage of know-how since we have been operating longer.

“I think regardless of what race they would just go to those who can offer the best deals,” a sales manager at a vendor selling Hewlett Packard computers and laptops told Malay Mail Online.

The MARA Digital Mall was mooted by Ismail Sabri amid controversy after the violent racial brawl that occurred outside the popular Low Yat Plaza on July 22.

MARA later said it would look into the proposal to use its building for the mall dubbed “Low Yat 2”, despite criticism that the idea would only deepen existing racial prejudices.

Despite having only Bumiputera traders there, Ismail Sabri ironically urged non-Malays to support the mall and emulate their Malay counterparts whom he described as “colour blind” in their shopping preferences.

He maintained that the idea of a Bumiputera only tech mall was not racist, and that it was only intended to help the community venture into the IT business.

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