Interview with Christopher Quek, CEO of

Christopher Quek

Q: Do tell us a little on Acmamall’s background? When was it started?
A: started in Malaysia and Singapore in July 2000 as an online bookstore. Formerly called, it was renamed to in 2007 to reflect its expanded product range of beauty, gifts and apparel. vision is to be the regional online shopping mall where we are a familiar household retail name to get products in a safe trustworthy and convenient way.

Q: How did you get inspired to start Acmamall? Is it Amazon?

A: had a part to play in it as an inspiration to dot com companies. At that time, was under Acma Ltd, a multi-industry conglomerate group that had a strategic thrust to develop twelve dot com companies at a go in hope of riding along with the dot com wave. was the online bookstore, while the other dot comes dabbled in tourist directories, HR, property and online education. However, like many dot com companies, many fell after the dot com bubble burst. remained the sole dot com company to survive profitably in the grouping.

In 2007, the company has since been bought over by its management and private investors who believe in taking the company forward in its vision. By becoming private, the company is now more lean and quick to react to changing environments.

Q: Why the name Acmamall, any special meaning in it?

A: Acma is a significant brand name to many Singaporeans in the 1960s to 80s as it was the only Singaporean manufacturer of air-conditioners and fridges. As the company was one of the many subsidiaries of Acma Ltd, took on the legacy of the Acma name, hoping one day that it will remain a favourite retail brand not only to Singaporeans but to all people in South-East Asia.

Q: What’s the toughest hurdle to overcome for your e-commerce venture in this region?

A: It was not easy to convince customers in South-East Asia to trust, especially an online shopping store. It has taken many years to build up our brand and getting people to trust us. That’s our toughest hurdle. The second most difficult was the lack of e-Commerce customer experience in this region. Many customers who shopped with told us it was their first time shopping online! They were very fearful of giving out personal information like financial data and delivery addresses.

We have taken many steps to provide assurances to our customers. For example, we used US standards of e-Commerce practices, where we have an opt-in model of email subscription. There was a privacy policy in place, where we kept customer information confidential. Financial data like credit cards were not kept but transferred to our bankers directly. We have also fulfilled over 110,000 orders to date in the region, which shows we are experienced in delivering orders to customers. Product guarantees and money-backed guarantees are provided if the customers have a justified reason. Lastly, we provided phone-call support where our customer service team was assisting customers in their purchases.

All these efforts have paid off, as we are proud to have a regional loyal customer base of over 50,000 who have purchased from us in the last three years, and it is growing larger by the month.

Q: How do you promote your site especially at the initial stage?

A: For the first two years, the previous management was traditional advertisers, due to the lack of internet channels. Most of the marketing budget was spent on print, broadcast and outdoor media. However, it had dismal results despite having a large budget spent.

In 2007, took a RM250, 000 marketing budget to advertise solely in Malaysia via print, online and broadcast media. saw a jump of sales in Malaysia by 50%.

Now in this season, is taking a different attitude to marketing, where it is investing its marketing dollars into Web 2.0 media to garner awareness.

Q: On average, how much monthly traffic you attract at Acmamall?

A: We are averaging around 120,000 visitors on a low month, but are seeing a higher traffic volume now in the festive seasons. Of course that leads to a good increase of sales as well.

Q: Among all the countries, who are your biggest customers?

A: That would be Malaysia and Singapore which makes a good 60% of total sales. We have operated in these home countries for the last 9 years and established good brand awareness in these countries. In Malaysia, most of our customers are outside Klang Valley, where they have little access to good shopping malls. To them, is a big blessing to them as they now have access to 1.5 million books and beauty products available for sale, which can be delivered to their doorstep and free shipping included.

The feedback as to why they prefer shopping with us is being able to pay in local currency, free shipping for books, beauty and gifts and trustworthiness.

Q: Amazon took years to breakeven and make profit, what about Acmamall?

A: As a lean and efficient company, we have broke-even operationally a few times. But staying small isn’t our idea of being a good company. In this online business, the bigger you are the better scale economies you achieve. Our board of directors and investors are aggressive and pushed us to take the risk and expand our marketing budget to grow the company. We made our fair share of mistakes and successes in taking such risks and are now still in the midst of our aggressive expansion so the bottom line is negative at this point, but it is all worth while as the sales growth in recent months will justify the marketing expenditure we have put in.

Q: Could you tell (or hint) us of Acmamall’s monthly revenue in average?

A: Ha-ha, I wouldn’t even dare hint on such figures as it is a highly sought after information from our competitors. Suffice to say, we are jumping leaps and bounds in sales due to our expansion in the region and selling internationally as well. The board is quite pleased with the growth as 2009 has been the best growth year and a stabilizing of sales.

Q: What are the favourite payment options of your customers?

A: For Malaysia specifically, customers enjoy internet banking like and CIMB Clicks which is considered less risky. Recently, we are now seeing PayPal as a new option rising up as acceptance is rising for this payment option. For the rest of the countries we operate in, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard are the most preferred options for payment.

Q: Do you plan to revise the pricing (especially books on higher price) to be more competitive?

A: I find this question always on everyone’s mind, which I find it very odd, but I will help to clear up this confusion.

For’s 16,000 beauty products, is deemed to be very price competitive and considered the best offering in the region. Customers in Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand Brunei and Malaysia told us they find our prices competitive, with the free shipping and being able to pay in local currency and not get cross-border charges have been the reason why they shop with us.

For’s 1.5 million book products, reigns in paperbacks and children books. For example, a romance novel by Nora Roberts can cost RM32 in a Malaysia bookstore, but we are selling it at RM23, with free shipping included. That alone saves a customer up to 30% when buying at

Moreover, with our special in-house promotions for members, as well as exclusive discounts for Malaysia customers of HSBC, CIMB Clicks, TM Rewards and Maybank, customers will find that the offers are irresistible.

What I believe people say some books are expensive are our hardcover books. The difference between local bookstores and is that we offer US book versions, while others offer the lower paper quality UK book version, hence the lower price at times from bookstores.

If you wish to get lower prices, then do sign up with our Facebook fan page where there will be special sales which may last for only a few hours and you can get a really good deal.

Q: Could you give us some clues on possible expansions or enhancements in the future?

A: As with our plan to go regional, we will be introducing more product ranges. We are currently working on building our Apparel range which will be a big hit. We are now in talks with international brands which are not available in parts of South-East Asia, which we believe are well-recognised and will be a big hit among customers. We are also reviewing our web store to be more optimised, especially our search engine and navigation which will give our customers a more pleasant shopping experience.

Q: As for you personally, do you have any plan for new ventures?

A: I am currently very happy working for, as it has been my life for the last 7 years since joining in 2002. Everyday at, more and new interesting developments pop up that sometimes I just sit back and watch in amazement. For example, our recent venture internationally, we now are proud to have customers as far as Mexico, Chile and Brazil to a small relatively unknown country like Vanuatu. The excitement to see how grows has kept me focused on this venture.

I am involved in two other ventures but more on an advisory role than an active one. I will not be planning any new ventures until my dream for to become the online regional mall is fulfilled. Logo

You can visit their online shopping mall at or join their Facebook page.

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Photo credit: The Star

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