It is said that, for those who made money during the California gold rush, it was not only some lucky prospectors who the bulk of it but the ones who enabled the prospecting by selling jeans, picks and shovels.
An analogy has been made for e-commerce whereby the ones who are making the money are usually the ones enabling it rather than the operators themselves. If that is true, then former prospector turned enabler CK Wong is on the right track.
CK’s first job was that of a techie, doing programming for a web development company. It was during this time that he was first exposed e-commerce. His work took him to trips to Japan and South Korea, where e-commerce was booming. “I started observing and reading up on e-commerce. I even started a blog about e-commerce called MalaysiaCrunch.com, now defunct,” CK recalls.
So enamoured of e-commerce was CK that he left his job in 2009 to start his own e-commerce business – actually, he launched several different online stores – selling things like t-shirts, kitchenware and children’s items. Business was good, and at one point, he was fulfilling around 50 orders a day from his various websites, which was pretty good back then.
But he found that despite the initial success, his heart was not in operating online stores.
“I didn’t really enjoy the process – customer service, operations and so on,” he says. “I realized that running e-commerce stores is not something I wanted to do. I’d rather report about e-commerce and enable e-commerce rather than conduct e-commerce.”
So, he folded up his online stores and in 2012, joined Rakuten, a Japan-based e-commerce platform that allows merchants to sell online. In 2013, he started eCommerceMILO, a website dedicated to covering the emerging local e-commerce scene. Finally, in May 2014, he left Rakuten to start Silver Mouse, an e-commerce enabling company.
Unlike Rakuten or Lazada, which are e-commerce platforms or marketplaces, what Silver Mouse does is offer brands the opportunity to set up their own branded online stores.
“Marketplaces are an important sales channel but if merchants are more serious about doing e-commerce and want to take full control of their online retailing business, they will need to start their own branded store and not just rely on marketplaces,” CK (pic) says. “This is where Silver Mouse comes in. We not only help merchants to set up their own branded online stores but crucially, we have digital campaigns designed to help drive traffic to their stores.
The blogshop phenomenon is something CK has observed with interest. It has really boomed in recent years with lots of students and part-timers selling items online via blogs and getting customers to pay via bank deposits.
CK doesn’t look down on such efforts although he does consider them to be a very “primitive” form of e-commerce. “It’s an easy way to start, with very little to no cost involved, but everything is too manual,” he says. “Any serious e-commerce player has to evolve away from such a manual approach. Going to an e-commerce platform like Rakuten or Lazada would be the next logical step. But ultimately, they have to create their own branded store.”
The reason is two-fold. Own stores allow companies to build up their brand and crucially, it gives them control over the customer database.
CK recently compiled a collection of local e-commerce success stories and had it published as a book, aptly titled Malaysian E-Commerce Success Stories. “I’ve written a lot about e-commerce online but writing a book about e-commerce takes it to another level. I hope with the publication of my book, more people will be encouraged to start their own e-commerce stores.”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.