Redefining e-commerce

The e-commerce industry in Malaysia has seen massive growth with close to 2,000 small businesses inculcating e-commerce trading onto their platforms. These businesses face the challenges of utilising e-commerce through internet technology, fully benefiting from the tools that are available, including training talents.

Alibaba Group vice-president Brian Wong believes talents are best trained through universities and in November 2017, Alibaba Business School signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with University Utara Malaysia (UUM). The collaboration involves two programmes – the Global E-Commerce Talent (GET) "Train the Trainers" and Youth E-Commerce Program (YEP).

GET is Alibaba Business School's first partnership with a public Malaysian university. It targets to train 100 educators by the end of this year and has already seen the graduation of 50 educators from six universities. YEP, on the other hand, has seen 30 students from various public higher education institutions engage in an experiential learning trip to Alibaba Business School in Hangzhou.

"China today is one of the most dynamic in terms of its e-commerce landscape and advanced in how it has leveraged on technology. The lessons learned from China can be shared in Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia. It will provide an idea for entrepreneurs, governments and talents to think about what they can take from China's experiences, which aspects are relevant to their country and society which will help to accelerate their learning and transformation,"Wong said.

"The reason we chose Malaysia is because it has plans on a macro level. There are two things that require talents to drive the government's initiatives. One is the Digital Free Trade Zone which facilitates trade for small businesses in Malaysia which will build infrastructures to promote the use of e-commerce in small businesses.

"The other is Malaysia's strategic e-commerce roadmap which involves multiple elements to transform its economy into a digital economy. To achieve this, you not only have to work from the top down, but from the bottom up. You have to develop talents starting at a young age, and Malaysia has been forward-looking in how it views its priorities, directions and trends in the economy," Wong added.

There are four components to e-commerce: e-commerce, payment, logistics and big data. In e-commerce as a percentage of total retail, Malaysia scores 5% while China hits close to 16%. This highlights the potential Malaysia has, given that its mobile penetration rate is higher compared to the rest of Southeast Asia.

All Malaysia needs to do now is to figure out how to use the mobile phone not only for communication, but to purchase and pay for products. In China, this is already the scenario and part of the reason is the advent of Alibaba. In the early days, the company made big efforts to educate small businesses on e-commerce and it became a part of everyday marketing tools.

"Because Malaysian companies develop better infrastructures to sell their products, they don't see a need to go outside normal channels. But now as things and consumer habits change, the need arises for businesses to become more tech-savvy," Wong said.

In terms of payment, even though credit card penetration is higher in Malaysia than in China, China has surpassed all countries in the world and is now the largest users of digital payments or mobile transactions.

"People have become accustomed to mobile payments because of e-commerce; simply because a digital payment system through an internet-enabled device is needed. This is something which grew very quickly in China, and is something that needs to be developed in Malaysia and that translates to banking systems and infrastructures needing to facilitate that – which is starting to happen,"Wong said.

"The third aspect is logistics and I think Malaysia's infrastructure is quite strong. What you need now is to create logistics that can enable fast delivery of products, and all of that lies in motion. So how can you improve this infrastructure? A change in behaviour is what Malaysia needs to focus on in order to realise its dream of a new economy paradigm," he added.

Moving forward, the collaboration between Alibaba Business School and Malaysia has spawned two other components in the pipeline.

One is a government workshop called the Economy Workshop where the school plans to bring government officials to Hangzhou to learn the role the government has to play in nurturing the development of e-commerce and how ecosystems can help the government provide better access to job and wealth creations and opportunities.

The other programme which will be launched at the end of this month is the E-Founders Fellowship programme. The two week programme will gather top entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia who are building e-commerce infrastructures in their own countries, and expose them to e-commerce innovations from China and around the world that has enabled growth and deemed successful.

"There are lots of opportunities to build the infrastructure of the Malaysian economy and we hope local businesses will get started on it. We want to share our experience and provide some elements to consider as opposed to you doing it from scratch or in the dark," Wong said.

For students, Wong's advice is to enquire among universities if they provide e-commerce programmes as Alibaba Business School will continue to work with local universities to offer Alibaba training programmes and facilitate certification.

These programmes will teach individuals to use specific e-commerce platforms so much so, on graduation students have an edge in finding employment because they have the required expertise to operate e-commerce platforms.

First-hand experience
To share her experience on the Global E-commerce Talent (GET) "Train the Trainers" programme is Dr Nor Haniza Mohamad who is a principal lecturer at Politeknik Ibrahim Sultan Johor.

"It was a really amazing and challenging experience. Amazing as we were exposed to a complex and sophisticated world-class platform, and challenging because we had to absorb vast amounts of knowledge. The programme has given me a perspective of e-commerce in Malaysia and the huge potential it has to grow which will benefit local businesses in cross-border trading.

"We were first exposed to the overview of the e-commerce industry in Malaysia, China and the world. Then we went on to understand the characteristics of the Alibaba platform; elements incorporated for its sellers and buyers. Later we learned about selling strategies; how we could sell our products online and how we can make our products visible through keywords and search principles," she said.

Nor Haniza believes the GET programme has helped her get exposure to further help her students to understand the full spectrum of e-commerce platforms. She said students will greatly benefit from the knowledge she has gained, allowing them to actively participate in the e-commerce industry and start their own personal entrepreneurship endeavours.