Profile: Rising to the top

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 25, 2022 - July 31, 2022.
“There will always be customers that focus on price, but for us, [we are] really focused on the delivery experience [as well as] giving them options.” - Lin

“There will always be customers that focus on price, but for us, [we are] really focused on the delivery experience [as well as] giving them options.” - Lin

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It is no secret that Malaysia’s courier services industry is highly competitive. The situation has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with such companies fighting tooth and nail to win over customers by slashing delivery cost and improving speed of delivery to the extent that the companies themselves are making little to no profit.

In order to provide some respite to the crowded field, the government froze the issuance of new licences for courier services for two years starting Sept 14, 2020 to Sept 15 this year. However, Lin Zheng, COO of Ninja Van Malaysia, says that the licence suspension does not resolve the logistics war.

“I don’t really think the suspension really put a stop to new entrants. I think some [new courier players] have entered the market in different ways.

“There are [already] hundreds of licensees ... any of them can expand their business. It’s really competitive, but it depends on the skill [a courier company has] to compete,” says Lin.

Apart from the price war and cut-throat competition, Lin says courier players also have to contend with other challenges in order to survive. These include adapting to the rapid increase in demand, as well as the evolving needs of shippers and shoppers.

“[When the pandemic struck], we had to upgrade our warehouse significantly to cater to the [delivery] volume; at the same time, we needed to hire more people. During the full lockdown, we were still able to hire as people were looking for more jobs, but we had to put effort into adding more vehicles and finding qualified people [to join the team].”

To ensure the health and safety of employees, Lin says Ninja Van had to ship face masks from Singapore to its team in Malaysia due to the extreme shortage during the first phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO) — these masks only lasted for a couple of days before they had to scramble for more.

By the time the third MCO was imposed in June 2021, the team was weary to the bone. As the Covid-19 infection rates were high and vaccination rates rather low, Ninja Van had to test all warehouse staff every two to three days to ensure they were free from the highly infectious disease.

Tough times don’t last, tough people do

Despite the intense tussle within the industry, the Singapore-based logistics company has risen to become Asean’s top regional courier player via its expansion to six countries: Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Lin attributes Ninja Van’s success to its operational excellence. With regional teams operating in each of those countries, this gives Ninja Van the advantage of being able to share knowledge across each team and learning how to solve problems together.

Additionally, the logistics company’s presence in multiple countries has given Ninja Van the opportunity to invest more in technology, including tools like driver application and shipper dashboards.

“We do a lot of continuous improvement projects to build a more customer-centric system to help [businesses] either ship more parcels or inquire about their parcels.”

One such customer-centric system is NinjaChat, an artificial intelligence-driven messaging service for shippers that can be accessed via various chat rooms such as Facebook Messenger, LINE, Viber and Telegram. Initially launched in September 2020, the NinjaChat feature allows shippers to track parcels during each step of the delivery process, manage their pickup reservations or be connected to a customer service personnel or an assigned account manager to answer immediate enquiries instead of having customers contact their call centre. “We see that the customer’s needs are changing,” says Lin.

Empowering customer connections

When it comes to choosing a courier to send parcels, cost remains a deciding factor. Consumers will always prefer a courier that offers the lowest or, even better, zero shipping fee. However, that might have been the main reason why courier players are making meagre profits despite huge business all year round.

While he may not be able to speak on behalf of other courier players, Lin says that Ninja Van constantly invests in its network, ensuring that it is able to scale according to increasing customer demands.

“With greater scale, we get better operational efficiency, and with better operational efficiency, we get savings that we pass on to our consumers.”

“There will always be customers that focus on price, but for us, [we are] really focused on the delivery experience [as well as] giving them options. We have more than 4,000 PickUp DropOff (PUDO) points in Malaysia, where end-consumers can opt to self-collect their parcel if they are not home [at the designated time of delivery],” adds Lin.

While Ninja Van has full coverage nationwide, Lin shares that to build that capability, it had to set up a huge network and have people on the ground — more drivers and teams to set up PUDO points to reach rural areas.

“Four or five years ago, I would’ve said that it’s not really economical to do so because maybe I might not even get one parcel delivered there in a month. It was about expanding at the right point in time when it was economical for us to make certain investments,” says Lin.

Besides enabling customers to receive parcels efficiently, Ninja Van also assists shippers, which comprise mainly of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), in catering to their delivery fulfilment needs. Ninja Van introduced Ninja Pack, a prepaid delivery product to ease shippers’ packing processes.

Available in polymer and boxes of various sizes, each Ninja Pack is equipped with Ninja Van’s proprietary real-time tracking technology that is enabled once the shipper creates an order on the Ninja Van dashboard.

Furthermore, Ninja Van has also opened Ninja Point with its partners. With about 67 stores in the Klang Valley, Ninja Point allows shippers and consumers to pick up and drop off parcels at its outlets. Shippers may also visit any nearby Ninja Point if they need assistance to pack their orders.

Come September, when the freeze on new courier licences is lifted, competition in the logistics industry will intensify even more, but Lin believes there are still niche opportunities to explore.

“As long as the market niche is relevant to the shipper and the customer, I think there is always potential for new players to come and look into areas that have not been explored.

“As long as they [new courier players] can provide good service in terms of viable economies of scale, I think they will be able to survive in this market,” says Lin.