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Compete or be obsolete

As it stands, in the many e-commerce-related seminars, forums and conferences that have been held ever since e-commerce became a trendy buzzword in this country, speakers and presenters have been forced to mention the likes of and EBay as examples of success, for want of a Malaysian alternative.

"It's not for the lack of trying," said GHL's Tan. Besides selling e-commerce software, Tan's company is one of the pioneer merchants on an e-commerce gateway set up by Malaysian Electronic Payment System (MEPS) Sdn Bhd.

MEPS was established in 1996 to build a shared Automated Teller Machine (ATM) network for a consortium of 27 local financial institutions.

Last year, Bank Negara selected MEPS to implement a payment gateway based on the Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) standard pioneered by credit card companies Visa and MasterCard.

The MEPS SET Payment Gateway was launched in November last year, with four local banks--Hong Leong Bank, Public Bank, Maybank and RHB Bank--currently issuing SET-compliant credit cards that can be used for purchases made at about 20 merchant Web sites in operation.

However, some of them demonstrate the shortcomings of many Malaysian e-commerce sites that have been set up thus far. Many Malaysian sites do not even offer the width of selection that can be found at a typical "physical" store selling products the traditional, "inefficient" way. A lot less can be said of the seemingly crude implementations at some of sites, turning customers away at both their unfriendly appearance and non-user-friendliness.

"Many do not inspire trust and confidence in consumers," noted Tan.

Despite these problems, some feel that Malaysian e-commerce will inexorably move forward. "Embracing e-commerce is not a matter of choice," said Yeoh Keat Seng, Merrill Lynch head of Malaysian research. He added that Malaysian companies need to realise that the old concepts of doing business--focusing on profit and loss--may become irrelevant.

Yeoh argued that in this emerging age of e-commerce, companies should be more concerned with gaining market share, rather than profits. "E-commerce can help them gain a significant lead over more traditionally minded companies…and the profits can come later."

The 42 percent of companies in Techknowledge Asia's survey obviously understand this, but there is still the remaining 58 percent that are still holding back.

For these companies, the dire consequences of non-participation await. "They will have to do it… it's compete or become obsolete,"' Yeoh concluded.


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