E-commerce not for everyone, some Yangon businesses say

Businesses and entrepreneurs in Myanmar are increasingly turning to social media as they seek new ways to promote their trade amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The number of businesses that have moved online has doubled since the pandemic began,” according to U Aye Chan, chair of the E-Commerce Association of Myanmar.

Among the tools businesses are using to connect with customers is Facebook live streaming, and Htet Htet Moe Oo has been one of the most successful in this endeavour. According to some of her one million followers online, the Myanmar actress and former “Queen of Commercials” has sold millions of kyat worth of sapphire jewellery via live streams.

But while some have thrived online, others have struggled to find their footing on digital platforms. For some local businesses, e-commerce is neither practical nor viable because their customers favour other means of trade.

Doing business online is only effective for customers who have plenty of disposable income, said mom and pop businesses and small-time traders. For most people, markets and shops where they can bargain for the best price based on unofficial credit are more viable options.

U Khin Maung Swe, a retired educator, said that many items sold online do not meet the needs and interests of the average person. “During this economic crisis, for grassroots people, forget about online shopping. They have to focus on earning enough to eat,” he said.

Some items out of reach Ma Ei Thazin Nyein of North Okkalapa, Yangon, said jewellery, clothing and food generate the most demand on e-commerce platforms, but for most of those in the lower income bracket, these items are out of reach, and online sales have shrunk since the pandemic began.

“I offered my products via live streams, but there were not as many customers as I expected,” she said. She had made as many as 40 online sales in the past, but now has only been able to make 10.

Ma Pa Pa Soe, a factory worker, is one of those who have cut spending. “I do not have extra money since the garment factories closed, and I am struggling to earn a living. I used to buy clothes and cosmetics via live streams every month, but now I try to save my money,” she said.

U San, who operates a delivery service in Lanmadaw township in Yangon, said, “People are struggling to make a living, so it would be better if Htet Htet Moe Oo sold necessities, such as sandwich bread.”

For bricks-and-mortar businesses targeting mid- to high-income earners, online competition has increased since the pandemic. U Tay Zar, a restaurant owner, said that as more people are ordering online during COVID-19, there is pressure for businesses to keep up with the growth of e-commerce, which requires them to learn new marketing skills.

“It is not easy for me to sell online, but as more people are ordering food via digital platforms, I have had to learn new skills. If I do not, I will be left behind,” he said.

Newcomers face obstacles

U Soe Thiha Naung, managing director of Mega Myanmar Links Co, said challenging times lie ahead for many local businesses breaking into e-commerce for the first time.

Businesses must find innovative ways to not only interest customers, but to retain them. “They need to try hard to turn new customers into regular customers,” he said.

In April, the government issued the COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan to promote e-commerce and encourage businesses to sell online. The second wave of COVID19 cases in mid-August resulted in an extension of lockdown measures, causing a surge in online sales.

According to the World Bank, internet usage has surged 25 percent since the lockdown began, online shopping orders and payments have increased 50pc, and sales for local businesses have grown 60pc.

More companies are offering help for businesses wanting to move into e-commerce. Also, Tradeworthy and the Ministry of Commerce are offering Good Practice Guides, a toolkit to support businesses making the transition to digital sales. The guides are funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

However, most people that do online shopping are in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, and other regions and states are being left behind due to the slow development of digital infrastructure in those areas.

Daw Sander Myo, secretary of the Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association, said that more needs to be done to support local businesses making the transition to digital platforms.

“Most businesses are prepared to change to e-commerce due to the impact of COVID-19. The authorities need to provide the necessary support for this transition so that all businesses can change to e-commerce with ease,” she said.

Source : Myanmar Times

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