From ‘Pasar’ to Instagram: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of SMEs in Malaysia - Jiran

From ‘Pasar’ to Instagram: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of SMEs in Malaysia

Don’t miss this inspiring story about the digitalisation journey of Aunty Alice Fish Shop

Published on 28 July 2021

Aunty Alice before the MCO

Aunty Alice has been running her fish shop for the past 30 years in the bustling Sentul Market. She employs eight people and her small business runs the lives of 40 individuals, including her four daughters who have broken the cycle of poverty to rise to the calling of a new Malaysia.

Malaysia is built on top of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) just like Aunty Alice’s. The SMEs employ 70% of the country’s workforce and constitute 99% of Malaysia’s registered business community. Their contribution to the country isn’t limited to generating economic growth but also forms the backbone on which the fabric of growth and prosperity is woven for millions of Malaysians.

Since Merdeka, these SMEs have been striving and flourishing against all odds to take Malaysia onto the path of a developed nation.

But on the dawn of 18 March 2020, this engine of stability came to a standstill. Aunty Alice and the people who were dependent on her business gazed to the future with eyes full of uncertainty. The pearls of hope for a brighter future turned to anxiety for the present. Many questions loomed over the employees and Aunty Alice. How long is this lockdown? What is COVID-19? How long can the business survive? Surely enough, these questions ran through every SME owner’s mind.

With the Movement Control Order (MCO) in effect, the daily ebb and flow of local businesses were affected, along with the livelihoods of many, as businesses deemed non-essential were required to close.

Aunty Alice’s workers at her fish stall in Sentul Market

Aunty Alice who was ready for her next chapter of growth had put her savings into buying a bulk of tiger prawns, a favourite delicacy among many Malaysians. As the gears of Sentul Market came to a grinding halt, the truckful of tiger prawns and the dreams of growth and prosperity were left unattended. With every passing minute, the RM120,000 earned through blood, sweat and tears turned into dust.

Beyond the impact towards the bottom line, the adverse effects hit close to home. One rejected bank loan after another meant that Aunty Alice had to self-finance and enlist the help of her family in the daily toil, just to keep business afloat during the tough time.

When no fallbacks are available, agility is the name of the game. This was the guiding principle that led Aunty Alice to pivot her business and shift gears to survival mode. The physical world might have shut its door due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the internet was roaring. A tsunami of digital behaviour shift hit the nation hard and as the saying goes, a true fighter needs that one reason to fight for.

Aunty Alice found the solution to her problems and transformed the business without hesitation. With a shift to Instagram as a hub for her seafood business, she seamlessly joined the masses who found new opportunities online. The e-commerce industry achieved massive growth in 2020 as many shifted their purchasing power to digital spaces for everything from groceries and food to other daily necessities.


Aunty Alice’s Instagram shop

Aunty Alice was lucky her daughters had a good sense of digital marketing and could guide her on the digitalisation journey. But, there are thousands like her still fighting for survival and just want to make an honest living. A little help at the right time can be worth someone’s life. As they say, wisdom is applying knowledge at the right time, and as it stands today we are at the crossroads where the solution exists but we need it to be administered to the ones who really need it. Hence, the digital transformation programmes available now are the perfect remedy for the SMEs.

Customer reviews from Aunty Alice’s Instagram

Like Aunty Alice, digitalisation of SMEs paves the way for smaller businesses to display their products, advertise their store and connect with their customers. All these are made possible due to the shift of consumer behaviour, bringing a change to the landscape of how SMEs operate in the next normal.

Before MCO, many Malaysians were dubious about the security of online transactions and preferred traditional cash transactions. However, Malaysians have finally begun to trust the system. Cash usage declined by 64% in 2020!

Now, 73% of Malaysians are more confident shopping online with 69% preferring contactless payment — staying closer than ever to our beloved businesses while social distancing.

Spending priorities have also shifted. There are more food delivery drivers on the road and more supermarkets offering deliveries without the hassle of avoiding large crowds. Case in point: Aunty Alice Fish Shop.

This is a battle we all have to fight together. Everyone can play their parts as a good jiran and spread the antidote of survival much needed by SME business owners. The SMEs are the true harimau of Malaysia — they will fight, transform and come out even stronger. All they need is our support. To embrace this positive spirit, explore this repository of all the grants available to the SMEs here and Yellow Pages x Funding Societies P2P financing option.


Aunty Alice’s family

You can be just like Aunty Alice’s daughter and help by contributing in the following ways: 

  • Be a Jiran ambassador by sharing your own business experiences with local entrepreneurs.
  • Be a #JiranPrihatin and #ShopLokal. Support small enterprises in your neighbourhood. Don’t forget to leave them reviews and spread the love!
  • Many financial aids are available for SMEs in Malaysia. Check out the SME Digitalisation Grant to find out more. Also stay tuned for exciting news on one-of-a-kind financing solutions from Yellow Pages Malaysia!
  • Help the SMEs navigate the grant journey with documentation, online navigation or even support them through one-on-one conversations.
  • Lastly, share this article with your family and friends. Aunty Alice’s journey can inspire many SMEs who are looking for that one ray of hope.