Ninja Van: Scale up to keep up

“When the pandemic hit us, we saw both opportunities and challenges at the same time. And during the Movement Control Order (MCO), we learnt to pivot and the safety of our customers and couriers became our main concern,” Lin Zheng, Chief Operating Officer of Ninja Van Malaysia tells BusinessToday in a chat on how one of the country’s well known courier service embraced and braced the pandemic.

With regulations being stricter at the start of the MCO, Lin says the team had to make sure the SOPs were in place and the team learned to work with the guidelines. Considered to be an essential service, Ninja Van was still able to carry out their delivery services however that did not mean the challenges were made any easier. 

“Once people knew the way guidelines were working, people started to utilise e-commerce platforms. Being at home most of the time meant there are no other way to entertain yourself so people started buying things online,” he says.

While this might indicate an opportunity due to the increase in demand, it also raised the need for Ninja Van to scale up quite a bit.

“We had to as demand was increasing and more vehicles and additional warehouse spaces were needed. During any other time, we would have the chance to plan ahead, but with the pandemic, we had to move fast. It was hard to control the cost and we had to spend more.”

It was also proving to be a challenge to deliver to East Malaysia as the numbers of freighters flying over dropped significantly due to the lack of flights. Border closures affected all forms of transportation.

“That part of our services was impacted significantly and we still do face them now,” Lin points out.

“Despite the opportunities popping up, the challenges were coming as well and we had to learn to balance both at the same time from two different parts of Malaysia,” he says.

Those were not the only challenges present. Roadblocks enforced to curb movement proved to be another struggle they had to face. Drivers would be stuck for almost an hour at roadblocks and with petrol stations shut much earlier, long-distance deliveries became harder and expectations had to be managed.

But by large, the team managed to adapt after a few days of adjusting and as for the logistics issues brewing in the East, Lin managed to find new providers and adjust accordingly.

“Eventually, we were able to keep up with the demand thanks to the scalability of our technology and the nimbleness of our people on the ground to deliver. This allowed us to expand as the demand went up, though we had to do extra investment to keep up as well,” Lin tells BusinessToday.

Since March 18, the country has since several different versions of movement restriction orders, ranging from the first MCO to the current Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO). This also meant that the startup has had to keep up with constant changing rules as well as trends.

According to Lin, the pandemic has pushed those who were not using e-commerce out of their comfort zones utilise the platforms and apps for daily needs. Eventually, new additions to the customer base stayed on, becoming long-term customers of Ninja Van as well.

“The movement restrictions has actually even elevated this base of our customers and we expect this trend to continue growing,” he says.

Scale up to keep up

Much like any other company in the country, Lin noticed that if there was a lack in incorporating technology into their operations early on, they might have experienced the impact of the pandemic in a much different way.

Several delivery services in Malaysia had struggled to keep up with the demand triggered by the pandemic. “For us technology plays an important role from the start of the order creation all the way to delivering the packages. And with MCO in place, we started the contactless delivery where customers no longer have to sign letters but only have their photos with the packages taken.

We were able to scale up and down a lot of quicker thanks to everything being on cloud. This allowed us to adapt to the changes taking place much easier and faster,” Lin says.

Ninja Van’s growth every year has always been a testament to their capabilities to scale up multiple times and with the e-commerce market growing rapidly, Lin believes there are still so much of potential for them to achieve.

The company now has over 3,000 drivers, having added 1000 drivers over the period of the pandemic. “We will continue to focus on areas outside of the Klang Valley and find key areas for optimisations. While we don’t have big investment plans at the moment, we are looking at a more targeted approach and focus on incremental plans,” he concluded

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