MUCH has been made of how many industries have been adversely impacted by the Covid-19-related movement restrictions. However, many enterprising businesses have evolved and innovated to craft a way forward in the "new normal" post-Covid.
Once the Movement Control Order (MCO) came into effect on March 18, platforms such as super-app Grab, food delivery service Foodpanda, and fashion e-tailer Zalora stepped up to broaden their platform reach to even more micro and small businesses.
At the same time, care was taken to support gig workers both financially and with healthcare to minimise the risks as they went about their "essential" roles of keeping Malaysia's domestic economy flowing. The move of almost all non-essential operations online during the MCO (and CMCO) created hundreds of thousands of more jobs.
The expansion of these services created gigs that not only paid well, but served as an additional source of income for the people, particularly the bottom 40 per cent (B40) who could monetise personal vehicles while generating more savings for the future.
Social media fuelled ingenuity as home bakers and cooks hawked their wares on Facebook or Instagram. Small businesses, local riders and customers also banded together in hyperlocal social media groups to lower collective costs. Additional demand on the local logistics network rose so much that Pos Malaysia offered up to RM6,000 commissions for part-time drivers while Lalamove has made plans to scale up its fleet to complete three million deliveries by year end.
Zalora expanded its catalogue beyond typical apparel offerings to include over 3,000 home, hygiene and pharmaceutical goods in collaboration with giant consumer goods names like P&G, Nestle and Unilever as well as pharmacy chains, allowing Malaysians to do their shopping, top up their grocery and healthcare needs with ease of mind, Under the Recovery MCO (June 10 to Aug 31), 99 per cent of Malaysian businesses can operate, while food delivery services have been given an additional two hours to operate till midnight. While the MCO was seen to affect some 90 per cent of ride-sharing demand, Grab responded by channelling more than 100,000 GrabCar drivers towards fulfilling food deliveries.
This move helped newly-onboarded micro businesses generate income and acted as a financial safety net for drivers who had lost ride-sharing income. It also saw ride-sharing partners fulfilling grocery or pharmacy orders for at-risk Malaysians such as the elderly and sickly by procuring essential healthcare items such as face masks, hand sanitisers and over-the-counter medicines.
At the same time, Foodpanda and Grab instituted daily temperature screening throughout their delivery networks, while all delivery riders and drivers were registered under the government's mySejahtera contact tracing app.
To support the welfare of essential workers, online platforms extended healthcare benefits such as insurance policies and subsidised medical costs.
These initiatives have continued into RMCO, as the ride-sharing sector is now allowed to carry 50 per cent capacity.
Over 98 per cent of businesses in Malaysia are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and these collectively employ some 67 per cent of the workforce.
No wonder there was a spike in urgency to onboard small retailers and mom-and-pop shops to online platforms.
Grab, for instance, rolled out multiple campaigns to support small local businesses, and saw 30 per cent more small, independent restaurants and hawkers onboarded and 25 per cent more orders from local sellers.
The MCO drove home the increased importance of digitisation in the "new normal" as social distancing measures are here to stay.
Under the National e-Commerce Strategic Roadmap, e-commerce was estimated to record a 20 per cent growth rate this year to RM170 billion.
We are already seeing the power of domestic consumption in driving Malaysia's economy, as our first quarter gross domestic product growth of 0.7 per cent defied widely-held expectations of a contraction. As more SMEs go digital to fulfill the requirements of the RMCO, they will grow more comfortable with online platforms.
Consumer and merchant trust in digital payment systems and commerce will expand to other forms of digitisation including enterprise resource planning, human resource and cloud adoption; all innovations that lead to increased productivity and higher service value.
Increased digitisation and further SME innovation will result in a more robust SME community and in turn, keep Malaysia's economic growth on a positive trajectory, as more businesses return to full capacity.
The writer is chief executive officer of InvestKL
Source: New Straits Times