With the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that almost every aspect of our lives have been upended and shifted into what we know and adhere to now as the “new normal”. From the freedom and choice to venture out and about, a majority of us onw are confined to remote working, learning and even obtaining essential items from "the comfort of our homes."
What initially felt like a break from the rat race and rush hour traffic has turned into a long strain of being trapped within our own four walls with no door out, and prolonged time and time again. This has ultimately caused our country’s economic status to stagger, with many local businesses of all sizes struggling to keep afloat. Not to mention, the rates of unemployment have increased by 5.3% in May 2020 from 5% in April 2020 as the number of unemployed people rose by 47,300 to 826,100 individuals, according to the Statistics Department. Who knows where we are now?
However, as much as our country’s economy has suffered a vital loss. There’s always a silver lining in every dark cloud that passes. Thus it can be widely observed that due to the pandemic, consumer behaviour in Malaysia has changed. More Malaysians have started to shift their attention to buying local products and supporting independent retailers. According to a UOB Asean Consumer Sentiment Study survey in The News Straits Times, almost seven in 10 Malaysian consumers (69%) are buying more from local brands to help these businesses bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has also highlighted the important role of technology, for both the economy and society. This unexpected turbulence has transformed the way in which local businesses need to operate, and that is by upskilling themselves and turning their sales to social media applications such as Instagram due to its accessibility, visibility and functions.
Instagram has been hugely popular in Malaysia with 14,915 000 local users as of June 2021, which accounted for 44.5% of the entire population.And throughout these trying times, it has served to be a conveniently large platform for a lot of local businesses in Malaysia to get back on their feet and attempt new marketing strategies in order to gain traction and sales.
Social media is the main vehicle for spreading information and driving trends. This is a contributing factor as to why many local businesses are getting the recognition they deserve - because it's now cooler than ever to #sapotlokal. This trend has not only helped many SMEs garner attention, but has also encouraged new ones to pop up overnight with immense support from the public.
One of the many successful businesses that have managed to climb their way through the pandemic is Mushroom Lah, a local halal and vegan online food store, serving mushroom rendang. The founder of the establishment, Aisya J expresses her gratitude for the #sapotlokal movement:
“The #sapotlokal movement has been amazing. Not only has Mushroom Lah gained attention, but we have also opened a new market for individuals, both vegan and non-vegan who are willing to try our mushroom rendang.”
But Instagram is only one avenue, and businesses cannot rely on social media alone to amplify their reach to different markets. That's where e-commerce sites with more direct sales features like Shopee and Lazada contribute to boosting sales. Online sales in these sites have increased by 28.9% in April 2020, proving that Malaysia is a lucrative market for e-commerce sellers, and local businesses could benefit from listing their products on these platforms.
Shu Zhi Lim, owner of local handmade jewellery shop, Pink&z who has opened up her business on Shopee concurs with the idea that more local businesses should utilise e-commerce sites, as it’s the most practical and convenient way to give your business that added push.
"E-commerce sites not only boost sales but it contains many benefits for business owners and customers such as secured payment gateways, detailed insights of products and reviews along with the keywords feature that drives sales and promotional campaigns. E-commerce sites have it all."
Aside from these large corporations, local platforms have also come forward to promote local brands and their offerings. The Star Media Group have opened up a fun digital marketplace and delivery service called BeliLokal.This marketplace has become an outlet for many local business owners to sell off their products and increase their brand’s visibility, as the site aims for brands to be aggressively promoted on The Star’s online website.
RIUH is a creative and community platform that aims to give the local market a voice via a fun, cohesive event that included these five pillars: Pop Up Stores, F&B, Live Acts, Workshops and Showcases. This successfully-proven formula inspired many other organizers to open up spaces and host events for local vendors. These include Awe Market by Awesome Canteen Cafe and Gerak Gerai by local creative hub and cafe Safehouse. With events put on hold, RIUH has pivoted their offline platform, online - featuring local brands and creatives via their website directory, blog and social media channels.
Other honourable mentions include networking platform for creatives, Cult Creative and multidisciplinary creative agency, Creating WAVS whose mandates are also geared towards uplifting the local creative economy and its people.
Regardless of the pandemic, supporting local has so many benefits to the economy and to society. A little goes a long way, but the continuation of this could potentially create more jobs locally, as well as reduce carbon footprints. “Think globally, act locally” is the mantra.