For some people, niche online marketplaces are the best place to shop, writes Siti Syameen Md Khalili
ONLINE shopping is making dreams come true for hobbyists and people with specific needs. Prior to this, getting specific items may be expensive and the items may not even be available to shoppers.
Today, as more online merchants recognise the interest and buying power of shoppers, many consumers are finding it easy, and cheaper even, to secure a niche product.
Three savvy niche online shoppers share their experience:
THIRST FOR VINTAGE
Who says guys don’t care how they look? A peek inside Fizan Satiman’s wardrobe reveals that men do care about what they put on their body as well as the vehicle of choice. The 35-year-old clerk is a fan of vintage apparel, and his collection includes T-shirts, jackets, sweaters, pants, sunglasses, helmets and decals.
“People who know me from my early years will tell you that I am old-school and I have been collecting and using vintage stuff since then. My wife will tell you that when she first met me in the late 1990s, I was wearing an old Bell helmet and a sweater made in the 1980s,” says Fizan.
He first started to shop online in 2006 and his first site of choice was US-based eBay. “At that time it was getting harder to find clothing that fitted, let alone vintage and those available here were expensive. I also shopped online, but paid my friends extra for letting me use their credit cards. Back then it was harder for online sellers to accept Malaysian credit cards.”
For Fizan, the problem with clothes is size and cut. “I find US-branded shirts and jackets a better fit. Items in our market are mostly tailored to fit typical Asian height and frame so most of the time the XL size does not sit nicely on me.
But the US L size is a great fit,” says the tall and well-built father of three.
“When I first surfed eBay, I found a lot of things that I wanted and at cheaper prices too. Most vintage clothing, which I started buying heavily in 2009, had front and back shots so I was able to scrutinise their condition before I bought.
Today, most of the online shops I go to are more descriptive and provide high-resolution spot. If there’s a flaw, an honest seller will zoom on the part, include this in the description and provide a photo for shoppers. This means you know exactly what you are paying for.”
Fizan, a superbiker, also buys vintage motorbike helmets.
“When buying old helmets, you need to go through the proper channel and pay taxes for them. So when your package arrives at Sepang airport or Port Klang, be sure to bring a printout of your online transaction and other documentation such as invoice and delivery tracking number. The authorities such as Customs or Ministry of International Trade and Industry will charge you tax based on the price you paid. Tax applies to items worth over RM500,” he says.
He vouches that in his eight years of online buying, his experience with the local authorities has been pleasant. “If it is your first online purchase, the officer may let you have your parcel without paying tax, even if the item is over RM500.
But only for your first time!”
A MINI DESIRE
Shah Budin Muni, 48, admits to being married to two loves. The happy-go-lucky says he loves his wife and he adores his classic Mini cars too. “The Mini is my second bini (wife), but my wife understands my affair. As an active member of Mini Owners Group Malaysia, I’ve met many other classic Mini owners and they’re just as passionate about their ride as I am,” says the owner of six classic Mini cars.
He bought his first classic Mini Clubman 1000cc manual in 1996 and, at one point, he had 10.
“I used my first Mini for day-to-day commute. Those days I hardly knew anything about the car. It broke down all the time! There were even times when I had to ask my client’s employees to help me push my Mini as it would not start. But I kept it as I really liked it and I got a workout as I bumped around in it. I would also drive without the air-conditioner so that the engine has more power. That alone made me sweat enough to skip going to the gym,” he quips.
Today, many Mini owners know the jovial Shah Budin as Abang Rare on forums and Facebook as he’s always on the lookout for rare classic Mini parts. “These days, I know a lot more about the car and I also meet a lot more Mini owners. I have friends from age 70 who still drive a Mini to as young as 15 and already interested in the car. The tech savvy generation asks me questions on the phone and Facebook about the car, workshops, parts and trustworthy websites,” says Shah Budin who uses a large screen Acer notebook paired with Celcom broadband dongle to go online.
“I still maintain my original business activity, which is selling car steering made in Indonesia, but half my shop is filled with classic Mini parts that I keep for future use. I resell some to friends from the Mini Owners Group as well as those who come into the shop.
“I also rent out my cars for special events, such as parades and weddings.”
Shah Budin admits that he saves on shipping when ordering in bulk but will resort to the costlier five-day express delivery if he needs a particular part quickly.
“I have bought many Mini parts and accessories online through shops that advertise in newspaper or magazines such as Mini World, the UK edition. It is safer to shop at established online shops. By sticking to this rule, I’ve never gotten into trouble. The bigger shops usually care about their business and are responsive in terms of communication, especially when you get the wrong parts,” he says.
Shah Budin also sources items from classic Mini owners and parts shops here.
SCOPE FOR SOAP
Beautician Anita F Sharbudeen used to be a serial online shopper. When she first started buying online nearly 10 years ago, her first purchase was a series of audio books.
“I provide electrolysis service, so when I spend about two hours with each customer, I listen to audio books. My first purchase was on eBay and I used a credit card. I was quite scared that I might get cheated, but I didn’t. Later I started using PayPal, but at that time it was relatively unknown here,” she says.
“At one time, I went through a rough patch in life and I didn’t feel like going out. I was constantly buying on the Internet and became addicted. I bought sticker paper, bracelet charms, measuring cups that came in a tube, silicone moulds for making poached eggs, spaetzle maker and meat thermometers — I was just buying things for the sake of buying. I liked the thrill of receiving a package and opening it.”
But when the packages arrived, Anita says she felt like kicking herself. “The moment I opened them, I asked myself why I bought them. They were some of the silliest purchases I’d ever made. Some of these items are still in their boxes today. I used to spend RM700 per month on online purchases, but since last year I’ve learnt to look around first, find local online sites then only go to international sites,” she says.
Her latest hobby, soap-making, takes her to sites based in Singapore, China and Taiwan. “Now my favourite sites are those selling soap-making supplies and kits. My recent purchase — silicone moulds for making soap — is worth RM180. Moulds are sold here but I save by not going from shop to shop. I also get the designs I like,” says Anita whose most expensive purchase in a single receipt was for essential oils totalling over RM1,000.
Though brave enough to venture into Asian-based sites, Anita prefers UK and US-based sites such as eBay and Etsy.com. “Whenever you have a query or run into problems with your purchase, these sites respond faster. For example, if the wrong goods are delivered, they assist you in getting the right product and offer vouchers for your next purchase. They are more professional in terms of customer service, which some Malaysian-based sites can improve on,” she says.
Now a seasoned online shopper who needs only her iPhone to shop, Anita says the best way to serve online consumers is to source for information from independent reviewers. “You can read blogs and comments as well as go to forums for reviews on a product. Many shoppers share their experiences online so you can gauge if the site is reputable or if a product is worth buying.”