The social trends shaping business in 2021

By Nicole Tan, Country Director of Facebook Malaysia 

2020 is the year that changed everything; from the way we live, to the way we work and play.  As we grapple with the human and economic impact of Covid-19, this is also a time for us to reflect and plan the way forward in Malaysia.

This is the first global pandemic of the digital age. As a technology company that connects billions of people across the world, Facebook has seen how this even compressed five years’ worth of digital transformation into a span of months. People are spending more time online – connecting with each other, working, shopping, gaming and more. 

With this, we believe businesses have an opportunity to be the driving force of economic recovery in the months and years ahead, as people’s expectations of businesses are evolving even faster than usual. In Malaysia, more than 98 percent of business establishments in Malaysia are small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) and they account for almost 40 percent of the nation’s GDP, making their survival and recovery crucial. 

For this to happen, they will need to adapt quickly to customer needs both online and offline and find ways to pivot their services. In fact, 32 percent of operational SMBs on Facebook reported in October 2020 that the proportion of sales they made digitally has increased compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Numerous businesses of all sizes have done just that – engineering heroic pivots that are dazzling in their sheer creativity. Take for example, a Malaysian online florist, BloomThis that was founded by Giden Lim and his wife, Penny Choo, who helped out in his mother’s flower shop when he was growing up.

They grew their business by doing same-day flower deliveries and subscription service to deliver luxury flowers straight from the farm. When faced with challenges due to the pandemic, demand for flower deliveries shrank dramatically. They were able to recover the business through the launch of new products, and promoting them through personalized ad campaigns. 

At Facebook, we stand at the intersection of community and commerce where businesses can take inspiration from the trends we are seeing. At the start of 2020, we had shared five social trends that were on the rise across our platforms: mobile, video, ephemeral sharing, messaging and e-commerce. 

Given how Malaysia is a truly mobile-first nation with 91 percent of the total population having access to smartphones and 87.3 percent of Malaysians are spending time streaming or downloading videos online, these trends are even more pronounced in Malaysia in 2021.

While physical stores will always be important to the social and economic wellbeing of local communities, it’s clear that e-commerce is here to stay, as the pandemic continues to drive adoption to online selling for businesses of all sizes. So what do these trends actually mean for businesses and consumers in 2021? 

Mobile and short-form video
Let’s start with video. We’ve shared about the growth of video’s popularity over the years but 2020 shattered all records as people spent more time at home due to lockdowns and social distancing measures. Take the phenomenon of lockdown live-streaming, which led to the sector growing 45 percent just between March and April globally.

Also, Asia Pacific now accounts for 77.5 percent of digital video viewers. Short-form video is very popular providing people with a much-needed source of self-expression and entertainment. During Lunar New Year, video viewers tend to look for content that gets them in the holiday mood; with 41percent of Gen Z and Millennials who prioritize videos that are funny, and 49 percent of Gen X and Boomers who prioritize videos that emphasize family.

Based on these trends, we expect that a new hybrid version of online shopping – a mix of entertainment and merchandising led by tastemakers and creators, will continue to grow. So businesses that want to be noticed and listened to, will do well to think about their visual signature online.

Discovery Commerce
Second, businesses need to tap into the fact that people of all ages are now more open to new ways of finding products and new modes of shopping. This requires an innovation mindset. With contactless and home-consumption habits expected to continue despite the easing of physical distancing measures, Malaysian consumers are not just spending more online as forecasted in 2019, they’re also buying into more categories online. 66 percent online discovery in Malaysia happens on social media, short videos and messaging. 

As Covid-19 drove people to rethink shopping habits, 74 percent of Lunar New Year shoppers surveyed in Malaysia say they often research things they want to buy online, before purchasing them in shops.

Facebook (80%) and Instagram (68%) are also the top two online sources for Lunar New Year discovery, where people seek ideas or browse for inspiration during the festive season. Now is the time to be brave and experiment with services like shopping directly from social channels, live shopping, click-and-collect or subscription services.

It means reimagining the channels and platforms on which your business can stand out and be discovered. For example, last year we introduced Facebook Shops which makes it easy for businesses to set up a single online store for customers to access on both Facebook and Instagram.

Just last December, WhatsApp announced that it has added the new “Carts” feature to the WhatsApp Business App, making shopping on WhatsApp more seamless and intuitive.  Other methods could be things like transporting people to your stores using 360-degree video, helping people try out products at home using AR filters, or using playable ads to let your customers interact with your products in a fun way. It also means being tuned in to local moments like Mega Sale Days such as 9.9, 10.10 and 11.11 which are driving new behaviours such as self-gifting.

Conversation and cross-border commerce
Lastly, think conversation and cross-border commerce. Messaging is one of the fastest growing channels for people to talk with businesses. For instance, more than 175 million people message a WhatsApp Business account every day globally. And over the last year, we’ve seen total daily conversation from people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram grow by over 40 percent.

Calling or emailing businesses are less preferred by today’s customer, which means messaging channels to chat with customers about products, logistics and other common queries are now vital. 67 percent of Malaysians are aware of Conversational Commerce and 27 percent of the people have purchased through Conversational Commerce. It is then not surprising that consumers here have increased their ecommerce purchases, especially via social media platforms.

For example, we saw an uptick trend where Malaysians seek to connect with businesses during the Lunar New Year season; 48 percent of those surveyed use WhatsApp, 23 percent use Facebook Messenger and 14 percent used Instagram Direct Message to message a business.

Top reasons to use a messaging service during Lunar New Year include to find out more product details (52%), to track their order (45%) and the purchase a product (42%). Interestingly, even when in store, over a third of all LNY shoppers specifically turn to social media [7].

As digitalisation grows across industries, it has strengthened cross-border business opportunities. So, businesses also need to build connections within the region and be open to opportunity. 

We are in a new era of commerce. One thing remains constant – people prefer interacting with businesses in ways that are human, personal and seamless. Discovering new products and services is becoming a more social experience. From connecting to beloved businesses via creators through brand collaborations, or engaging with local small businesses during their Facebook Lives – we have seen many unique expressions of this trend.

People, businesses, and creators are joining Live for entertainment and connection based on their interests including shopping – there’s tutorials, product Q&As and product launches. We are excited by how our community adapts our technology and we can see the potential of Live for commerce starting to emerge. 

Whatever the size of your business, making sure that it is visible, discoverable, conversational and cross-border will be essential ingredients to make the shift from surviving to thriving.

Nicole Tan leads Malaysia for Facebook and is based in Malaysia.

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