In the pandemic, Carousell Malaysia evolved to become an e-commerce platform for the people

  • Average Malaysian made US$336.76 during MCO on Carousell
  • Covid-19 MCO “accelerated everything” for platform, including shipping integration

In the pandemic, Carousell Malaysia evolved to become an e-commerce platform for the people

“2020 has been an eventful year for us,” says Carousell Malaysia’s country head Tang Siew Wai (pic, below). In our Zoom interview, he says it with a jovial chuckle, though there’s a definite relief in his voice. 2020 has been eventful for pretty much everyone on Earth, but for Carousell Malaysia, Tang says that the positives outweighs the negative.

In the pandemic, Carousell Malaysia evolved to become an e-commerce platform for the peopleLike most entities in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, Carousell took a hit. The C2C e-commerce marketplace, which generates revenue though programmatic advertising, media ads and their own internal coin system, saw a drop in media dollars from advertisers, especially through big brands.

This was in the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia, which Tang says is understandable – with a lockdown happening, a reduction of spending is normal.

What surprised him, however, were that smaller advertisers came in to make up the difference in advertising. These are from local retailers selling things like furniture and home entertainment systems – new essentials for people now stuck at home.

Ad spent from big brands weren’t the only decline here. Carousell Malaysia also saw a drop in fashion and luxury-related transactions – categories that were among the strongholds of the platform. Again, this is to be expected – with everyone on lockdown, nice clothes and accessories are more of an afterthought.

Yet other categories saw an uptick. Tang says that toys & games, gym equipment, home decorations and electronics saw a spike, as everyone sought for things to hunker down comfortably (and productively) with. During the MCO period (that is, from February to June 2020), Carousell recorded 1.2 million searches for Work-from-Home equipment.

“You should see how fast gaming chairs get snapped up. It’s crazy,” Tang shares.

What this also means is that the classifieds platform barely slowed down despite the pandemic. During the MCO period alone, Carousell’s study found that the average Malaysian made US$336.76 (RM1,396) selling on the platform, with more than 690,000 transactions for second-hand items.


Closed doors and open windows

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a number of startups and platforms pivoting their business in order to survive. For Carousell, however, it’s more or less a process of finding open windows with every closed door.

For instance, during the MCO period, citizens were not allowed to travel further than 10km from their homes. This means that certain Carousell sellers might find it difficult to ship their products out. For this, Carousell worked out a solution with Poslaju courier to provide a pick-up service for delivery.

Additionally, Carousell was quick to partner with Unilever Food Solutions to launch the #TetapBuka Online Ramadan Bazaar, allowing local business owners to sell food items on the platform. With it, users can support local business owners within a 10km radius during the fasting month.

With it, F&B owners basically got access to an on-demand takeaway service with no charge. Tang says that some of the sellers purchased Carousell Coins, which allows sellers access additional features, to push their listings on the platform.

Following that, Carousell partnered with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to launch the #TetapBuka Carousell Business Grants initiative worth US$247,000 (RM1 million). Open to all local retailers and SMEs registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM), the grant provides businesses with free access to CarouBiz Lite Package (worth RM500), the Carousell Protection digital payment system, and the opportunity to be advertised in the Carousell main page.

Beyond that, Carousell worked to keep the C2C experience going smoothly. When there was a shortage of face masks and hand sanitisers, the platform noticed people scalping prices for these essential products across most e-commerce platforms.

While they don’t usually step in to control the price of products, Carousell worked with the Ministry of Domestic Trade & Consumer Affairs to manage the ceiling price of face masks. “Whenever prices go above that ceiling, our AI will flag and help remove it. We also provide guidance on the appropriate pricing for these products,” Tang says.


The next turn

When asked if Covid-19 derailed any of Carousell Malaysia’s plans, Tang says the opposite occurred. “It accelerated everything,” he notes. The increased traffic (daily traffic up 17%) and shifting shopping trends mean that Carousell would need to keep up.

[Para edited for accuracy. An earlier version gave the wrong % of daily traffic increase.]

What does this lead to? For starters, more support for businesses. On September 1, Carousell announced another partnership with MDEC to jointly roll-out the Government’s Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA) e-commerce initiative called the PENJANA Micro and SMEs (MSMEs) E-commerce Campaign.

The initiative entails free Advertising Credits worth US$24.7 (RM100) for 2,000 micro-sellers and SMEs on Carousell, as well as Buyer Discount Vouchers subsidies by the platform and PENJANA.

Enhancing the overall C2C experience is also another priority. Carousell are are accelerating shipping integration into the platform, which includes working with Poslaju to rollout their shipping solution. This is vital, considering the unpredictability of current times.

“You never know when the pandemic will hit you again. So rather than facilitate COD (cash on delivery), which has its risks, shipping integration will make things seamless and easier,” says Tang.

The shipping integration, which will make it easier for sellers to ship products and for buyers to track the shipping status on one platform has started a gradual roll-out since Q4.

Carousell is also gotten in talks with e-wallet players as potential partners. “Retail has affected e-wallet use, so they’re also looking to move things online,” Tang notes. Ultimately, it’s all to make Carousell more seamless, and delivery more value to users – e-wallets will help.


Learned lessons

We can certainly expect the new feature to arrive soon enough. After all, according to Tang, Carousell Malaysia has been able to launch their offerings fast during the pandemic. The #TetapBuka Bazaar initiative, for one, was set up in a matter of weeks.

“The MCO, for us, is the busiest period in Carousell,” Tang laughs. “But it’s a good experience for us, and we feel that we created a lot of positive impact for the market.”

This adaptability didn’t just surface during the pandemic. The platform as a whole has learned lessons operating during unprecedented circumstances. Tang points towards Carousell Hong Kong, which helped a lot of businesses continue operation during the 2019-2020 protests.

The platform turned into what Tang describes as a “virtual mall”, with businesses jumping onboard what’s essentially a C2C platform in order to sell things they can’t sell physically.

“What we learned from Hong Kong is that sellers still need a platform to sell their products during a crisis, and that Carousell offers flexibility of running business,” he says. “We’re observing similar trends during the MCO. People are finding it a hassle going out now, and they’re getting used to the new normal of doing things, and they are going for alternatives.”

Essentially, businesses will look into platforms like Carousell to continue operation. At the same time, as observed by the growing traffic, Tang’s dream of a world where people would intuitively sell their pre-loved goods will become reality sooner than expected.This shift, Tang stresses, is unprecedented. “We never expect this, but make sense to me is that we have to be very adaptable. If anything, the pandemic has taught us that Malaysians are very resilient and resourceful. We hope this platform will make them come out stronger,” he shares.


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