Webinar provides insights into international export and trade

The webinar poster

The e-commerce industry has been blooming over the past few years, especially after the digitalisation of most industries in the world. Now more than ever, due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected most, if not all businesses’ physical activities around the world, they have directed their attention to e-commerce to maintain their operations. Thus, to educate UTAR students and staff on the importance of e-commerce principally for the current climate, UTAR Division of Community and International Networking (DCInterNet) collaborated with Alibaba Group to hold a webinar titled “International Export and Trade: E-Commerce Platform Insights” on 9 September 2020 via Zoom.

Speaking at the webinar were none other than Regional Marketing and Business Development Lead of Alibaba Malaysia Malaysia and Thailand Nianci Phang and UTAR Faculty of Accountancy and Management (FAM) Deputy Dean for Academic Development and Undergraduate Programmes Dr Hen Kai Wah. On the other hand, the moderator of the webinar was the UTAR Lee Kong Chian Faculty of Engineering and Science (LKC FES) Head of Programme for Master of Information Systems Dr Wong Whee Yen. The webinar mainly aimed to enlighten the participants on the current situation of the e-commerce business in Malaysia and also how Alibaba has helped small and medium enterprises to grow their business on e-commerce platforms.

After Dr Wong initiated the talk, Nianci Phang took the virtual stage by focusing on three main topics in her presentation; Alibaba’s digital evolution throughout the years, the impact of Covid-19 on online business-to-business (B2B) transactions, and buyer behaviour and solutions created by Alibaba to help Malaysian SME’s digital export. She started by showing an interesting video that featured the success of SMEs in Vietnam from 2019. From there, she shared the three core businesses or ecosystems of Alibaba Group, which were digital media and entertainment, core commerce, and local services. Meanwhile, she also shared some eye-opening statistics on the world and Alibaba’s B2B e-commerce platform. It was fascinating for the participants to know that the global B2B e-commerce gross merchandise value (GMV) was six times higher than the business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce’s GMV, and that among Alibaba’s Malaysian suppliers, the Food & Beverage industry was the highest.

Nianci Phang showing Alibaba’s core businesses

Nianci Phang moved on to explain Alibaba’s digital evolution since its inception. “When Jack Ma first founded Alibaba, it was only a listing B2B platform where businesses could only exchange information with each other if they wanted to deal with one another. Years later, Alibaba 2.0 was conceptualised to become a trading platform where comprehensive foreign investors trade services such as meeting potential buyers, drafting order, receiving payments and shipping orders. Finally, we have the present Alibaba 3.0, a digital platform offering digital marketing solutions and allowing businesses and consumers to find the specific products that they desire,” said Nianci Phang. She also enlightened the participants on Alibaba’s e-commerce growth since 2018. These thought-provoking statistics speak for themselves, as it showed that Alibaba has had a 50% growth in active buyers, a massive 65% increase in the number of paying buyers, and a whopping 160% rise in their transactions in 2020 alone.

Nianci Phang progressed the webinar, focusing on her second topic, which was the impact of Covid-19 on online B2B traffic and buyers’ behaviour. She shared the statistics of Alibaba’s online global traffic during and after the Covid-19 outbreak, plus the rate in which online global buyers are getting younger. She also gave the attendees an insight into the global home and health industry, which was listed as the most popular online purchased products by people at home during the pandemic. Nianci Phang stated, “During the epidemic, lots of household furniture like chairs and lamps were purchased because of the amount of time spent at home. Not just that, the amount of manufacturing materials bought has also increased. Consumers are also in a relaxed state at home, so comfort and casual wear were prioritised. They have been buying more home-wear clothing. Cleaning and personal care products, such as makeup and detergents were also purchased frequently, which reflects the customers’ pursuit for health and well-being.  Families with children are the main consumers for sports and entertainment products, since they need to keep their kids busy with toys. Last but not least, every household has been stocking up on food as preparation for the pandemic.”

Nianci Phang giving an insight into the home and health industry

To end the first hour of the webinar, she enlightened the participants on Alibaba’s current solutions for Malaysian SMEs to compete in the digital world. For this, Nianci Phang introduced the Alibaba Global Gold Supplier Membership (GGS). In essence, it is a premium membership account for SMEs who will receive several unique functions such as their own distinct storefront, increased exposure, data-driven marketing schemes and wider business opportunities. She also mentioned that those SMEs can get a few benefits from having a gold account instead of a normal, basic account. These benefits include differentiation from the competition, international brand recognition because of Alibaba’s globally known reputation, and the ability to create trust easily due to having a verified account. Nianci Phang ultimately ended her part by advertising Alibaba’s Super September sale.

The second and final speaker of the day, Dr Hen, discussed the topic “Cross-border E-commerce: Opportunities and Challenges”. After briefly introducing himself, he compared the impact of Covid-19 on Malaysia’s export and import trade from 2018 to the present year. Speaking on this, he said, “Due to the pandemic, there have been disruptions to the regional and global supply chains. The national social distancing rule has also affected exports as production operations have been halted. Also, there have been slowdowns in foreign direct investments (FDI), not to mention disruptions in transportation and logistics services which has led to general increases in domestic and international transaction costs. Lastly, there has been a rise in export restrictions among its major trading partners.” There were several other areas that he touched on as well, including changing purchasing behaviours and increase in business innovation.

Dr Hen explaining Malaysia’s export and import growth

Dr Hen continued the talk by analysing cross-border e-commerce also known as international online trade. It consists of the selling or purchasing of products via online shops across national borders. After sharing a few statistics detailing the growth of Malaysia’s cross-border e-commerce market and Malaysian cross-border e-commerce shopping frequency and motivation, he focused on the other side of the coin, which is about the cross-border e-commerce for sellers instead. According to Dr Hen, there are five advantages of cross-border e-commerce for sellers; a global reach, wider engagement, increased revenue, better opportunity to seize the potential of different product ranges, and a highly competitive market.

Nearing the end of the two-hour talk, Dr Hen emphasised on the challenges of cross-border e-commerce from the perspective of a seller and the customs department. “Once again, there are four challenges, one of which is the language barrier. Since the seller is selling in another country, they could encounter difficulties in communicating with the locals, especially if the country is one that does not have English as a mother tongue. There is also the point of shipping concerns, as online sellers might sometimes have problems in shipping products out to consumers in different countries, and this challenge alone can force them to direct their attention to a local market. Marketing complications is another issue. Because many e-commerce businesses fail to grip a better understanding on a country’s local or cultural preferences, they use ineffective marketing strategies, which leads to their failure to reach a worldwide market. Finally, legal regulations can prove to be a big problem, as some countries’ laws and regulations can make life tougher for online merchants to reach a global audience,” said Dr Hen.  On the other hand, he added some of the difficulties from the perspective of the customs agents, some of which are incorrect tariff classification, inaccurate description of goods, loss of revenue and increased risk of restricted goods entering the country.

Dr Hen discussing the challenges of cross-border e-commerce

Dr Hen ended his presentation by briefly addressing the following topics; the six thrust areas of the National e-commerce strategic roadmap, the 12 programmes of the said strategic roadmap, Malaysia’s Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ), and the power of social media influencers in e-commerce.

The talk was concluded with an extensive yet insightful Q&A session.

First row, first from left, middle & second from right: Dr Wong, Nianci Phang and Dr Hen with the participants 

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