Shifting businesses from offline to online — Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi

APRIL 4 — 2020 is a challenging year for business due to the coronavirus disease outbreak. The unpredictable nature of this pandemic is negatively impacting local, national and global economies.

Owing to that, the governments from all over the world are ramping up fiscal measures in bridging the economic gap that the coronavirus pandemic is creating, especially on the small and medium sized companies (SMEs).

In Malaysia, the SMEs sectors have been hailed as the backbone of Malaysian economy as they provide jobs and economic growth to the local economies and at the same time, has helped the country to reduce the unemployment rate.

What’s more, as stated in SME Annual Report, SMEs in Malaysia employed 66.2 per cent of total employment, which clearly shows that the knockdown of SMEs due to this outbreak will cause a real whammy in our economy.

Coffee shops, restaurants and many other businesses are facing financial crunch as they are commanded to cease operations under the movement control order (MCO) period. With the business’s cash flow abruptly cut off, it is possible that they may close their business permanently soon.

Even businesses that appear to be in good financial shape may not be immune, depending on how the situation progresses and how long it takes for demand and supply to return to normalcy.

In fact, the World Bank lowered its projection for Malaysia’s GDP from 4.5 per cent to -0.1 as it reflects the impact of the pandemic under a scenario where the current large-scale disruption of economic activities would extend for most of the year, before a partial recovery towards year-end.

Well, to the SMEs out there who are hit hard by coronavirus pandemic, what is the best thing you can do to keep your business afloat or save it from heavy losses or even worse — bankruptcy?

At this unprecedented time, this is the perfect time for you to begin selling online, or increase how much you can sell online.

In Wuhan, a cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan closed 40 per cent of its stores — but the brand shifted its sales strategy to online, via digital platforms like WeChat to engage customers virtually. As a result, its sales achieved 200 per cent growth compared to the prior year’s sales — which is amazing.

While in Malaysia, F&B businesses are reporting a 30 per cent increase in food delivery requests as people are more likely to look for digital services that can fulfil their everyday needs during the MCO period.

Lazada, on the other hand, claims that their site has experienced a spike in orders from the start of the MCO. The demand for food, personal care and household cleaning supplies are increasing drastically.

If the idea of taking your brand online is making you nervous as you do not have the expertise needed to build a successful online store, do not fret just yet!

Do you know that there are currently more than 20 million Facebook users in Malaysia?

That is the potential number of people you can reach by having an online presence, what’s more when social media usage is surging and has almost instantly become the channel for everyone to communicate and live their life, as for now.

If you are new to this kind of business strategy, here are some effective tips to take your offline brand online.

1. Determine the right social platform

It is crucial for you to choose one or two social media platforms and completely immerse yourself in them. However, you have to make sure it is the one that your target customers are using and can provide a good conversion rate.

Conversion rate here is the percentage of the customers that will buy your products. The higher the conversion rate, the better.

In order to do this, you have to know who is your target customers. For instance, if the age range of your target customers is from 25 to 54, Facebook is the best platform. If it is from 18 to 30 years old, Instagram would be the best one for you to sell your products.

2. Great product photography

In this age of high mobile-device engagement, having good marketing is more vital than ever to attract customers and help them make confident, informed purchases. In fact, it is the easiest way to boost conversion rate.

Whether you are selling handbags or scarves, there are tons of ingenious ways to make your product look ultra-professional. If you are out of idea on how to get an eye-catching photo, go check on Pinterest, a visual discovery engine for you to find ideas and inspirations.

3. Effective advertising

The only means of reaching customers in online business is advertising, such as through Facebook and Google AdWords advertising. Advertising aids a business to earn profits by permitting more people to know about your products and services and thus resulting in more sales.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember not to overwhelm users or they may be likely to unfollow or block you.

All in all, while the full economic consequences of this black swan event are still uncertain, putting your company online simply gives you a new source of customers and could offer a short-term boost for your business.

Let’s face it — there is a whole lot going on that is beyond our control. But guess what? 

Everyone is in the same boat, so we can either dwell on it or embrace it. If you do not want Covid-19 to put a halt to your business, it is vital to stay focused on what you can control.

But, do not forget to maintain customer trust, by demonstrating good health and offer “contactless” delivery options to minimise risk; something several businesses, including Ninja Van and FoodPanda are already beginning to implement.

* Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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