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How a nationwide retailer moved towards an omni-channel retail strategy


"eCommerce is a must for retailers right now. In fact, omnichannel is the way to go in the future." - Au Yong Char Inn, Fitness Concept

Established in 1983, Fitness Concept is the largest fitness specialist chain store, with over 45 retail outlets throughout Malaysia.

An authorised distributor of NordicTrack, Reebok, and more, Fitness Concept offers the widest range of health and fitness equipment from USA, Europe and Asia Pacific.

Even before the pandemic, they were already in the midst of stepping up their digitalisation efforts, from website migration to digital marketing strategies and more. In fact, the pandemic merely acted as a catalyst for them to accelerate their existing plans.

We sat down with CEO Au Yong Char Inn recently to learn more about their digitalisation journey in creating a successful omni-channel experience for their customers.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Fitness Concept’s digitalisation journey?

A: We actually started digitalising a long time ago, probably around 2008 or so. Our first website was a simple one with very basic features. No purchases can be done through the website, so it acted like an online catalogue for us to display our products. But then, we didn’t even show the prices so a lot of customers actually contacted us to ask about the prices, and stock availability. We eventually realised that there was a huge demand, and people were actually researching online so we decided to set up our online store.

After many years, we began to see things differently and wanted to do more. We became more ambitious but we also felt that our previous online store did not allow us to fully maximise the omnichannel retail strategy. At the end of 2019, we decided to revamp our online store and further integrate our offline and online stores, so we signed up with Maxis Business.


Q: So how did the business adapt to the COVID-19 situation?

A: We brought in a lot more compact and easy-to-assemble equipment such as compact treadmills to cater to the work-from-home lifestyle.

We were also forced to accelerate our move towards an omni-channel retail strategy. We were already in the midst of migration even before the pandemic, and website migration typically takes a long time. Luckily we were able to speed it up and our new online store was already up and running in April 2020, which was just a few weeks after the MCO.


Q: What inspired the team to transform the company’s eCommerce site?

A: We faced a lot of challenges with our old website. We were unable to reach out to customers who dropped off last minute from our online store. Our team also had to do a lot of things manually and we wasted a lot of time in preparing to ship the order. We were also not familiar with online advertising and email newsletters.

At the same time, we also saw a lot of online stores with pretty cool features, and we thought to ourselves ‘Hey, why don’t we have that?’.

Our previous online store has very limited features and we knew it was important that we improve our customers’ online experience. Our current online store, for example, would send you an email reminder if you added something in the cart and did not check out. Our current online store also shows pop-ups like ‘Someone in Johor Bahru just bought an item’. This may seem minor but it does help in creating that sense of urgency among potential buyers. We also now have product comparison charts, which are very useful for our customers.


Q: How has the new eCommerce website contributed to higher satisfaction among customers?

A: Sales processing became so much easier, thanks to the new features available on our eCommerce site. During the MCO, we were able to process the order and ship the items faster to our customers, and that has helped improve customer satisfaction by 90%.


Q: Did you have any concerns about migrating to a new website? What was the most important thing for you when you were looking for a new solutions provider?

A: We spoke to many agencies and providers and we told them that Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) was extremely important for us. Our previous website was ranked No. 1 on Google for certain keywords and we didn’t want to lose that. So we would only be willing to switch if our SEO could be maintained.

As an analogy, imagine this. Your house is going to get upgraded from a simple terrace house to a huge bungalow. It’s still at the same address but you also want to make sure that people will still be able to spot your house even after the renovation.


Q: Typically, people won’t think of a telecommunications company when it comes to eCommerce or digital marketing. Why did you think Maxis Business would be able to help Fitness Concept in achieving its goal in moving towards an omni-channel strategy?

A: We wanted to start adopting an omni-channel retail strategy, so when we signed up with Maxis Business, we were actually signing up for a customised bundle plan that includes web build and digital marketing. That means we are getting support in web design and development, digital marketing, insights and analytics and more. Having all these services through one single provider has been really convenient.

They also provided value-added services such as trainings for my team. Recently, we even attended one on how to get more sales during the year-end period.


Q: With the boom of successful eCommerce websites such as Lazada and Shopee that attract a huge customer base, in your opinion, is it still necessary for retailers to set up their own online store?

A: All these platforms, whether it’s your own online marketplace or even third-party eCommerce websites, they all have their own pros and cons. For our business, we decided to have both so we do have our own website and we also put our products on Shopee and Lazada.

While eCommerce websites are great in terms of bringing in potential customers, but competition is huge. There are so many similar items from many different suppliers, and you would have to pay extra to bring your products upfront. There is also a pricing formula you have to follow. And for big sales events, it’s a must to finalise your inventory 2 weeks before, so if let’s say there are new stocks than come in less than 2 weeks before, then we wouldn’t be able to include it as part of the sales event. So yes, third-party eCommerce websites do have their own advantages but there are certain limitations.

On the other hand, having your online store gives you much more control and flexibility. But of course, it requires a certain amount of investment, and also comes with a lot more responsibility. Lucky for us, the Maxis team is there to help with our online website, from updating the web page to creating promotional codes and more.


Q: Based on your observation, how has the pandemic actually changed customer behaviour, in the fitness industry at least?

A: Before the pandemic, we still relied a lot on our offline stores, despite having an online sales channel. But now customer behaviour has shifted tremendously. For example, dumbbells were typically purchased in physical stores, but now it’s really popular online as well, as people have realised how convenient online delivery is.

Many people also like the ‘pick up at store’ service where they check the stock availability online, and come over to the store to pick up the items. This is where our eCommerce website comes into place.


Q: Is eCommerce here to stay, now that things are slowly reopening?

A: Absolutely. This shift in behaviour isn’t temporary. People love the convenience of getting their purchases delivered to their doorstep.

Plus, eCommerce is a must for retailers right now. In fact, omnichannel is the way to go in the future, as many people prefer to do research online before seeing the items in physical stores.


Q: Is there anything you would like to say to businesses who are still hesitant about going digital?

A: The great thing about having an online presence, and actually selling online is the fact that you can have as many customers you want at a time. And they can come from anywhere. There’s no limit to your growth. A physical store can only accommodate a certain number of people, especially nowadays with strict SOPs.

I can understand why some businesses may be hesitant to go online, but the challenges that we had previously in terms of logistics for example, are no longer an issue. With the boom in eCommerce, we are seeing more logistics providers that are able to offer better services, and cover more areas.

Our business for example has shipped from Subang to Perlis, Langkawi, and even Cameron Highlands. We’ve shipped to many customers who are based in slightly rural areas, and smaller towns from other states. The power of an online world is truly fascinating!


Digitalisation isn’t just a pandemic necessity, and Fitness Concept knew this very well. From changing customer behaviour to an integrated customer experience that is beyond the act of shopping, it’s crucial for retailers to understand the growing role of digitalisation.

Are you a fitness fan? Join us in supporting our local UsahaWIRAs. Check out Fitness Concept today:

You too, can be an UsahaWIRA like Au Yong Char Inn.