A passion for photography can be stoked or snuffed by something as simple, yet integral, as being able to find the right gear.
SITEC speaks to Dr Koh Kho King, founder of Malaysia’s first online store for cameras and photography accessories, on his e-store and emerging as a finalist in the Top E-Commerce Merchant Awards 2016.
ShaShinKi, which means ‘camera’ in Japanese, was started while I was still pursuing my PhD in Japan.
Photography has been my passion since 2000, and I started Malaysia’s 1st online photography community a year later.
When Dr Koh started out, it was a small scale operation, and he dealt mainly through email and forums in small amounts. However, towards December 2005, he decided to switch to using a website to showcase the products that he would be able to get from Japan for his customers and friends, and in December 2005, ShaShinKi was born.
However, 2005 was a time when e-commerce was still very much a youngling in Malaysia, and Dr Koh noted that this had caused the site difficulties in attracting customers.
Many were scared of buying things online, or paying before touching the physical goods. We started by telling our potential customers about our connection with PhotoMalaysia.com, as well my reputation in the photography community in Malaysia.
However, people started gaining confidence in their services, and through word-of-mouth endorsements from their friends, ShaShinKi was able to close online deals for orders larger than RM 50,000 – and for customers that they haven’t even met!
When I started ShaShinKi, it was not about the money, but rather the passion in photography and the excitement of getting hard-to-find photographic accessories from Japan to my photographer friends in Malaysia
Another challenge then, according to Dr Koh, was the design and features of the website itself.
He shared that now there’s a plethora of e-commerce software that are readily available at very affordable prices – a luxury that they did not have back then, and he relied on “OSCommerce”, an open-source software.
A lot of the customisation was done manually on their own. Although it was hard in the beginning, they now benefit from having full control and knowledge of the software, and can perform modifications easily according to their needs.
Though ShaShinKi had less than 50 SKUs when they started in December 2005, the number quickly grew to more than 300 SKUs in 2006. However, things started to slow down for ShaShinKi, due to the misconception that cameras should not be bought online. It did not help that ShaShinKi was the only e-commerce player dealing with cameras.
Competition started to show itself in the form of several other camera and accessory stores in 2008. When their competitors started pushing out more SKUs than they did, ShaShinKi stepped up to the challenge, and decided to source for more brands and products.
Now, they have over 19,000 active SKUs in their inventory. Dr Koh thanks the competition for motivating them to work harder, offering more to customers as they had no space limitation to work around.
Also, customers can contact ShaShinKi, and even Dr Koh, through the numbers published on their site, for help with either their order, or even if they need advice with photography.
We are not here just to sell cameras. We are here to provide solutions to our customers. From time to time, we also get customers emailing to thank us for our services and how we managed to get things that they couldn’t find elsewhere, this is the most satisfying moment in our work.
Dr Koh opines that the Malaysian e-commerce industry is still in its infancy, albeit with a huge potential and with lots of room for all players to grow, and that the e-commerce volume in Malaysia only caters to around 3% of the total retail sales in year 2015, whereby Singapore is already surpassing 7%.
Comparatively, other developed countries’ percentages stand at around 15%. A lot of successful e-commerce merchants in Malaysia are new young entrepreneurs, instead of those already with successful physical stores or chain store businesses.
Dr Koh thinks that many may mistakenly think that business will come automatically right after setting up an online store.
They cannot be further from the truth.
He noted that young entrepreneurs often spend their time studying customer needs and designing their website with personal touches, working tirelessly to promote their websites. Some of the tools they utilise include social media, organic reach optimisation, and others.
A lot of time and effort goes to make one’s e-commerce business success, not unlike running a physical store.
Dr Koh had also professed excitement at hearing about the Top E-Commerce Merchant Awards, as there was finally recognition for e-commerce businesses in Malaysia.
I didn’t think about winning, as there are many other bigger e-commerce merchants in Malaysia in different industries, but I did keep high hopes about being able to make it to the top 10, as we are quite influential and popular in our own industry of photography.
Dr Koh and his team’s trip from Johor to Kuala Lumpur for the awards night were not in vain as they emerged as a finalist in the competition, going home with RM 1,000 cash, a trophy, a cert and other goodies.
Dr. Koh also urged all e-commerce merchants to participate in the Top E-Commerce Merchant Awards next year, so as to gain more connections with the players in the industry and get more exposure to the world.
We are honoured to be recognised as being among the top 10 e-commerce merchants in Malaysia for the year of 2016. Such a recognition will give us extra exposure and lend confidence to new customers who have not tried our services before.