By Oon Yeoh
E-commerce giant Amazon.com has fuelled the imagination of many local entrepreneurs keen to make it big online by selling directly to customers without the need for a physical store.
While that certainly seems to be a popular trend, a few online retailers have decided to adopt the “clicks and mortar” model that involves both an online and offline presence. Christy Ng of ChristyNg.com and Norasurah Abdul Wahab of EDZ.com.my both run successful online businesses but they still believe that the physical store is an important element in retail.
Christy runs an online shoe store while Sue (as Norasurah likes to be called) runs an online Islamic fashion store. Both started their stores based on items they were passionate about.
“I’m a shoe freak,” declares Christy, who recalls to Business Circle growing up poor and not being able to afford expensive shoes. “A woman can never have too many shoes. I fell in love with my mother’s red stiletto heel when I was four years old and I knew ever since then that I wanted to become a shoe designer, more than anything else in the world.” Today, Christy sells shoes that she designs herself via her online website, which has customers across the country and even around the world.
As for Sue, she decided to go into this line because she had trouble finding modest fashion apparel. “I was looking for something casual but decent for Muslim women to wear and I found it hard to find them. So, I decided to create my own brand and began to sell clothes online so that other women looking for such items could easily buy them.” And with that EDZ.com.my was born. What started out as a simple blogshop has since blossomed into a full-blown and extremely popular e-commerce site.
Capitalising on the physical component
Christy used to sell shoes part-time on weekends at flea markets in the Klang Valley. That early stint in retailing shoes physically convinced her that it would be good to have a physical store, too. “Having a physical store allows customers to physically try on the shoes while having an online store made it very possible for us to reach out to customers across the country and even around the globe,” she says.
Sue sees her physical stores as a necessity. “Online business is a good platform to start with low capital and it involves very low risk, and it’s also a very good way to build up your customer base. But for the apparel business, customers like to try on the clothes before deciding to buy.”
Where Christy and Sue differ is their projections revenue growth. Christy already has more sales online than offline and she sees the ratio growing further in online’s favour. “As consumers become more tech-savvy, more and more people will choose to shop online,” she says of her online store (pic).
In contrast, Sue, whose physical sales already outstrip her online ones, believes that the physical stores will continue to generate more sales. “Customers will always check the website for new arrival or promotions. Some will buy online but some prefer to visit the boutiques to make the purchase,” she says. “Maybe before they come, they had planned to buy only one item. But when they are in the physical boutique, our salespersons will help them do the fitting and suggest other items. That is why physical stores generate high revenue.”
Both learned the ropes the hard way, via trial and error. “I made many mistakes and paid a hefty price for them but I guess it’s what you need to go through to get it right,” says Christy. Sue didn’t have any retail experience when she started. “I learned through combing the Internet and searching for knowledge and information about online businesses and retailing,” she recalls.
Their advice to existing retailers considering taking their business online: “Be brave and have fun along the way. You will make mistakes but in the end, it’ll be all worth it,” says Christy. Sue meanwhile says it’s important to go online to keep up with consumer expectations. “Malaysians are now very Internet savvy, so every offline business should also go online!”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.