How local retail shops in Malaysia can survive the E-commerce boom
I recently visited a local retail shop located inside a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya. Had a long chat with the only employee that manages the shop all year round.
It was around 5pm when I came into the shop and he told me I was the second person to walk in that day. Even funnier was that the first person was in the shop when I got there.
How could that be? A retail shop inside a mall that only had two visitors up until 5pm (well, three if you count my wife).
A nearly dead mall
I wasn’t surprised when he told me that the shop barely gets any foot traffic. You can count how many people were in the whole mall when I was there.
Lots of shops were closed. The only ones left were big names like H&M and F.O.S, pop up shops, and some cafes and restaurants.
He will also close down shop after contract ends in a few months. They have another outlet in KL which gets high foot traffic and will just operate from that one store coming soon.
How the shop can still survive
Closing down one outlet is one way to reduce cost and improve your margins. But what if you only have that one outlet?
The mall is not dead (yet). Because they don’t get a lot of foot traffic, the rent is most likely not as high as other malls with lots of foot traffic. But it is still a shopping mall and have the facilities of a shopping mall.
To me, that’s undervalued and when something is undervalued, you need to take advantage of it.
Take advantage of what exactly? Abundance of parking spaces, cheaper parking, easy access to shop, air conditioned environment, F&B, building management, other shops that can cross promote and much more.
You don’t get that if you’re running at shoplots.
Getting more foot traffic
Don’t rely on mall traffic. I would drive my own traffic to the store. And here’s how I would do it:
1.) Get found on Google
Let’s say someone searches “scented candles in KL” and you sell scented candles at your shop. Does your shop show up in the results?
You can easily do this by listing your business location on Google (Do that here https://www.google.com/business). Make sure you complete all of the information about your shop. Also include lots of pictures of the shop and mall facilities like I mentioned earlier.
2.) Google search ads with location extension
Just listing your business on Google is not enough. You can cast a wider net using search ads, which allows you to be found for other search queries that is not directly related to the product or service you offer.
Going back to the scented candles examples, I would create ads bidding on keywords related to “gifts”. Anniversary gifts, wedding gifts, birthday gifts. Using the location extension, I can display the map location of the shop in the ad so that people can directly click on it.
3.) Reach out to bloggers
Find local bloggers and have them write about your shop. They may require some kind of payment but some of them are okay with just appreciation gifts from your store.
The article about your shop will be seen by their readers and also will show up in search results. This gives you a better chance of being seen on Google.
It’s time to transition into E-commerce
Physical retail shops going into E-commerce will have it much easier than E-commerce businesses opening a retail shop. Not only that, but having a physical retail shop is a great credibility booster when it comes to online shopping.
With an online store, your business will no longer be limited by geographic location, which means you can grow your business even further.
The first step in transitioning to E-commerce is you need to have some kind of social media presence. If you already have a Facebook page or Instagram profile for your business, then you are already well on your way.
With social media, you are able to promote your business and reach people online. But reach is still limited. If you want more to see your postings on social media, you will need to pay for advertising. You can even use Facebook Advertising to get more people to visit your physical store.
The second step is to bring your store online. You can do this with a website. More specifically, a website with shopping cart features which allow people to view products, add to cart, and checkout.
Today, building a website is not difficult nor expensive. You can use E-commerce website solutions like EasyStore or Shopify. You can literally build a fully functional shopping cart website in minutes.
Once you get the website up, you will need to have some kind of payment process so that you can collect the payment. For start, you can just display online banking instructions when they are checking out. But to make the process less of a hassle for you and your customers, you can use payment gateway services like eGHL, senangPay, or Billplz.
Next, all you have to do is get people to visit your website. I highly recommend using online advertising such as Facebook Ads and Google Ads. Facebook Ads allows you to select a very specific audience to show your ads to. Google Ads is great because you can get your business in front of people who already have buying intent.
Online to Offline and Offline to Online
If you have both an online store and physical retail, you will have an advantage. Because you have online presence, your potential customers can find you without having to be in the area of your physical shop. And when they come across your E-commerce website, they can start shopping your products there then.
Because information about your physical store is available on the website, they can either purchase directly from your website or come visit the store for a better shopping experience.
And because they are satisfied with the experience, they become customers. Now that you have build trust, provide them with more convenience by encouraging them to purchase straight from your E-commerce website with a discount code for the next purchase.
It’s not the end of retail in Malaysia
It’s actually the perfect time retail can blossom. In Malaysia, consumers still prefer to purchase from a physical store and through WhatsApp than directly through an E-commerce website.
They just don’t go to your store because they can’t find you online. If your business doesn’t have online presence, your business does not exist.
Amirul is CMO at MatDespatch. He also runs an E-commerce business with his wife and hosts the Amirul Mokhtar Podcast for DIY marketers and small business owners.