Digital accessibility is a topic widely discussed, as technology companies work towards becoming more inclusive by being conscious of accessibility elements that need to be incorporated into their tech. Web and app developers have been putting effort into ensuring their platforms are also accessible to those who may have hearing or seeing disabilities, for example.
The World Bank estimates that 15% of the Malaysian population is disabled in some manner, but the number of persons with disabilities registered with the authorities is only 600,000. Meanwhile, 53,089 visually impaired persons, for whom digital assistive tools are needed, were registered with the Disabled Development Department as at March 31, 2021.
It is evident that this population in Malaysia should not be ignored any longer, especially as we move ahead to enhance our digital economy through the MyDIGITAL initiative. E-commerce has proved to be a good way for this community to start their own business and work on their financial independence.
Providing insights into business growth
Johor natives Yusri Azis and Nur Jannah Tan Jia Hui lost their jobs during the pandemic when the restaurant they worked at closed down. As blind individuals, the husband and wife found it difficult to obtain an alternative source of income.
The couple approached a friend for guidance and proceeded to open their current Shopee store, Yus Bisnes. The plan was to sell their friend’s products, but their business expanded rapidly. Twitter user @NizamArif_ shared their story on the platform and people flocked to support them.
“We decided to focus on selling our own products in early June, and in one week, we achieved a revenue of RM12,000, completely selling out our sambal hitam inventory,” says Yusri.
The main reason the couple chose to open a Shopee store is because Shopee was their regular e-commerce platform before they became sellers. As long-time buyers on Shopee, it was only natural for them to use a platform that worked well for them.
“Using a new platform would require more time for us to explore its functions as well as to adapt to fully utilise it. Since Shopee allows us to open our store easily, it did not take us long to decide to start a business on the platform,” says Yusri.
Despite their inability to see, the couple found Shopee quite user-friendly. They set up a store on the platform and manage their own sales without any problem. The platform is easy to navigate too, Yusri says.
“We rely heavily on a screen reader called TalkBack, an app that helps us read what is on the screen. However, the app has some limitations, especially when it comes to reading details from infographics and images,” he adds.
“The current marketing trend is to use images and graphics. This makes it challenging for us as the software cannot convey the messages within the infographics to us. We have no issues with typing, but we struggle with graphics.”
He says they are blessed to have trusted friends who constantly assist them by taking photos of their products and editing them before listing on Shopee. “We can manage the marketing centre on our own, but we sometimes still require help to obtain feedback on how we can improve. Shopee also reached out to understand some of our struggles and needs, so this is encouraging.”
The pair have enrolled in Shopee University and are looking forward to learning how to efficiently manage their store with marketing skills such as copywriting and using Shopee Ads.
“As a small business that has just started out, we lack the courage to invest. Hence, we are now focusing on learning. Besides Shopee University classes, we also joined the Shopee Uni Facebook group, where many sellers have guided us on what to do and areas to improve on,” says Yusri.
No obstacles to moving forward
Zeeda Aziz was a full-time housewife before the pandemic. Fear of Covid-19 kept her homebound, which led her to explore e-commerce sites such as Shopee. Over time, she needed something to do at home and decided to earn extra income by selling dried seafood products on Shopee in July last year.
Despite not having any sales experience, her business has expanded to include five employees who help out with orders and packaging. “When I started this business, I didn’t expect it to be where we are now, as it was something I did to pass the time because I no longer had the chance to go out with my friends,” she says.
Zeeda attributes her success to Shopee University’s webinars, through which she gained the confidence to try out Shopee Ads. She started with a small budget and gradually grew her exposure.
She also learnt that to successfully run a business online, sellers need to know how to list a product well, write good product descriptions as well as optimise keywords for searches to give their product further exposure. Within a year, she has increased her sales from a few hundred ringgit to a five-figure monthly income.
“When I started my business, there were orders coming in, but it was challenging to attract new customers. That was what prompted me to join the classes. As a new seller, you need to join all the classes you can to understand your mistakes as well as to continue learning and seeking new knowledge. That way, you can improve not only your business but your marketing skills as well,” she says.
“Shopee University has taught me a lot. The trainer is good and the classes were simple and easy to understand for someone with no prior selling experience.The classes are free for all to attend.”
Zeeda highlights that Shopee’s e-commerce marketplace gives her the flexibility to sell at her own pace and make a living despite having lost a limb to cancer. She chooses not to focus on her disability, but rather on how she can further improve her business as well as take care of her staff.
“I may not be able to move as easily, but I focus my energy on strategising how to grow my business and thinking of better ways to care for my employees. I may not be able to afford to pay them a lot but by guiding them, I hope they feel encouraged to pick up some e-commerce skills and start their own business as well,” she says.
Zeeda is looking for potential employees who can read and analyse data well as she currently relies on algorithms to further improve her store. She also plans to open a bricks-and-mortar business but it will not be so soon.
“I am looking to open another store on Shopee as I now know how it works, but I am trying to find a different product niche to venture into. I am still figuring it out. But once I get it, I will definitely open another shop.”
Prioritising the e-commerce user experience
If there is one thing the pandemic has proved, it is that there is more to e-commerce than just an avenue for online shopping. The reliance on online channels to carry out tasks and transactions saw a shift in consumer behaviour, where the reliance on e-commerce sites increased exponentially.
This has proved to be true for physically disabled sellers and buyers as well, bringing to the surface the ease, accessibility and features seen on e-commerce sites. As consumer demand evolves, e-commerce sites too will need to innovate and ensure that their platforms are able to continuously serve the needs of users.
Shopee Malaysia senior manager for business development Zed Li says the company is committed to driving long-term and sustainable growth as it strives to make the benefits of e-commerce accessible to all. As such, it prioritises its user interface, be it for sellers or buyers, to ensure that accounts are easy to set up.
“Shopee has a low barrier to entry for all who are keen to explore the e-commerce marketplace. Hence, anyone can be an entrepreneur on Shopee and enjoy low fees as new sellers,” he adds.
The Shopee team is also in discussion with Yusri in the hope of improving Shopee University classes for the visually impaired community.
“We have a language customisation feature where classes are held in three languages — English, Malay and Mandarin. We have received positive feedback from users and we will continue to prioritise improving our user experience,” says Li.
Shopee’s main focus from the get-go has always been about using the platform and technology to improve lives in local communities. This mission will not change, he says. That is why the company made the deliberate decision to bypass the desktop and go straight to mobile because 90% of internet users in the region access the internet via their smart devices.
Over the years, Shopee has introduced new features and services on its platform to give users an unparalleled online shopping experience. This includes its in-house logistics service Shopee Xpress. It has also expanded its list of third party logistics service providers to include The Lorry and City Link as part of its integrated logistics solutions to better serve sellers on the platform.
“To further ease transactions for our users, we have introduced our ShopeePay mobile wallet, which allows a smoother checkout process,” says Li.
Despite launching a website in all of Shopee’s markets, the majority of transactions in the region are actually made via its mobile app. This allows users to be connected to Shopee anytime, anywhere within cellular range, he adds.
Other features that Shopee has introduced over the years to level up the engagement with users include Shopee Live and Shopee Feed. Users can also pay with ease and peace of mind through ShopeePay and track their orders conveniently on the platform.
“We understand there are many who are still unbanked. This becomes a struggle for them to enjoy the benefits of e-commerce. As such, we are widening the availability of the cash payment option for our users. What this means is that they can place an order on Shopee and head to the closest 7-Eleven or KK Super Mart to make their payment,” Li explains.
“In fact, to ease future payments, they can also top up their ShopeePay using this method. This cash payment feature allows us to serve a new population of users who are unbanked or without access to financial services.”