Health Supplement eCommerce Trends in Malaysia: Cultural Background Impact Herbal Purchases, Sugar-free and More
February 27, 2020
July 7, 2023
Previously, we’ve uncovered the fact that Malaysians are increasingly health conscious. For a country that ranks the highest in Southeast Asia for obesity and diabetes, the concerns in preventing heart complications, hypertension, and the onset of diabetes is at the forefront of Malaysians’ minds.1 This is good news for eCommerce merchants who sell health supplements, as these products address Malaysians’ core need to prevent diseases rather than curing them.
On top of that, Malaysia’s eCommerce channels are growing rapidly, and health supplement companies are taking advantage of that. So if you’re planning to sell your products into Malaysia, what are some key background information you should know, and what trends should you look out for?
Market Overview on Malaysia’s Health Supplements
As it stands, the vitamin and dietary supplement market in Malaysia have reached MYR 3.1 billion (USD 730 million) in sales in 2019 from its 2014 value of MYR 2.07 billion (USD 488 million).2
Within a growing market like this, it may be surprising to know that there isn’t a dominating player in Malaysia. However, this means there’s an opportunity for you to enter the market. Nevertheless, it’s good to know the top 5 brands in the vitamins and dietary supplement market in Malaysia based on Euromonitor’s findings:
Nutrilite by Amway
Brand’s by Suntory
Kinetica Crisp Pro by Kino Biotech
Despite being the top brand, Amway only holds 12.8 per cent of market share in 2019.3 From this, you’ll notice that the brand shares are quite diverse, with products lines that address very different needs.
This is because, like Singapore, Malaysia is also culturally diverse, with 68.6 per cent of its citizens comprising the ethnic Bumiputera (which include Malays), 23.4 per cent Chinese, 7 per cent Indians, and 1 per cent of other ethnicities according to data from 2016.4
Additionally, 76 per cent of Malaysia’s population is urbanised as of 2018, making it one of the most urbanised countries of Southeast Asia, just shy of Brunei (78 per cent) and Singapore (100 per cent).5 With this many people living in urbanised areas, it comes with perks like a high internet penetration rate (83 per cent)6 and other conveniences of modern living like developed infrastructures which facilitate the growth of eCommerce. However, the urbanite’s living arrangement also comes with drawbacks like a busy and stressful lifestyle.
This background plays a role in shaping the way Malaysian consumers buy health supplement products, which will help you in figuring out which of your products can address their concerns and lifestyles best.
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With this overview out of the way, let’s dive deeper into some key insights about Malaysia’s health supplement consumers.
Going the Extra Mile: Looking for Sugar-free Supplements and Other Products to Prevent Health Problems
The increase in health consciousness has not only made Malaysians adopt a more healthy lifestyle, but their inclinations for health supplements also stem from the belief that prevention is better than cure.
This is evidenced by the increased purchase of vitamins that claim to be sugar free.7 While products like gummy vitamins may be appealing to chew, some of these vitamins have added sugars which may undo the intention of staying healthy while increasing the risk of diabetes. With this growing awareness on needing to cut down sugar intake, younger consumers are drawn towards these sugar free vitamins to improve their health and prevent the onset of diabetes.
Other product categories that are seeing increased use are weight loss supplements and slimming teas. The inclination towards these products is far from superficial, as Malaysian shoppers are also looking to prevent obesity and the heart complications that arise from it.8 Popular products like Lennox Garcinia Cambogia, which is infused with the Garcinia cambogia fruit, tend to be herbal in nature, which influences the perception of the supplement’s effectiveness in the eyes of the Malaysian consumer.
Herbal Product Purchases are Driven by Cultural Beliefs
Herbal and traditional medicines hold around ⅓ of the market share in Malaysia’s health supplements industry.9 This inclination towards herbal products are largely driven by the cultural backgrounds of the different Malaysian consumers. Ethnic Malays are often exposed to the abundance of locally grown herbs like kacip fatimah and tongkat ali, whereas the Chinese have some knowledge about the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine while growing up.
It’s no surprise then, that there is a niche for herbal health supplements in Malaysia.
Malay Women Consume Herbs for Women-Specific Issues
Among married Malay women in Malaysia, herbal products are used to address general health issues along with specific health issues relating to their biological gender. These include concerns like postnatal care, menstrual problems, fertility, and more. Malay women also prefer to use herbs because they believe that naturally sourced ingredients are safer for consumption.10
Within this group of consumers, 22.4 per cent of them obtain their herbal products through online means. For this group of consumers, the reasons for getting herbal products are driven by its accessibility and convenience. 11
Outside of this consumer group, women in Malaysia also turn to herbal products in general, with products like Herbs of Gold by Vita Life Sciences Ltd introducing Pueraria Mirifica Plus Wild Yam.12 This product contains active ingredients to maintain feminine health and it is doing well in Malaysia’s health supplements market.
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Proliferation Allows Oriental Herbal Brands to Shine
The Chinese populace have had some exposure to the idea that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a valid form of medication. In Malaysia, the attitudes of the ethnic Chinese towards TCM is generally positive, with 94 per cent of Chinese respondents in a study by University Malaysia Sarawak saying that they have sought after TCM before.13
Thus, it’s no surprise that Brand’s by Suntory, a product line known for using TCM ingredients, is the 3rd top holder of market share in Malaysia’s vitamins and dietary supplements market at 10.5 per cent, just below Amway (12.8 per cent) and Usana (11.1 per cent). Other prominent brands that can cater to this group of consumers include the likes of Yomeishu and Eu Yan Sang.14
For international brands that sell herb-infused supplements, there is an opportunity to enter the market to cater to these consumers. This is topped off by the findings from Nielsen, where 84 per cent of global brands are preferred for vitamins or supplements in 2017.15 Entering Malaysia’s health supplements market would be a breeze, and this can be capped off with seamless cross-border shipping to sell your products to Malaysians.
Offline Channels have the Lion’s Share now, But Online Shopping Will Tip Scales in the Name of Convenience
Due to the busy lives of the largely urbanite population in Malaysia, convenience is king when it comes to shopping for health supplements. While 93 per cent of the health supplements sales channels take place offline,16 the drive towards convenience may allow an opening for online channels to enter.
In terms of offline channels, there’s an increase in shopping for health supplements at personal care and convenience shops that are near residential areas as opposed to driving to a hypermarket or a supermarket. Personal care and convenience stores both enjoyed a 18 per cent and 17 per cent growth in 2017 respectively, while hypermarkets contracted at 4 per cent.17
On the other hand, there are strong indicators that online channels are only going to grow from here. Statista predicts that online channels for personal care products will grow to 9 per cent in 2024 from its current 7 per cent. Even brick and mortar convenience stores are ahead of this trend and preparing for the influx of online shopping with the likes of Watsons and Guardian having online retail shops to cater to eCommerce shopping.
According to Similarweb, Watsons Malaysia’s online retail website enjoyed 1.1 million visitors in January 2020,18 whereas Guardian Malaysia’s online retail website enjoyed 594 thousand visitors in the same month.19 Watsons’ eCommerce shop also implements a click-and-collect system to aid in the convenience of shopping at their store. This goes in line with the findings that online to offline (O2O) tactics can help win Malaysian consumers over.
How Else Can you Reach these Consumers?
While distributing your products on major retailers like Watsons or Guardian can help you with entering Malaysia’s market in the long term, listing on general eCommerce platforms will help you test the demand for your health supplements in Malaysian without a significant time investment. These top platforms include the likes of:
Shopee (25 million monthly web visits in Q3 2019)
Lazada (18 million monthly web visits in Q3 2019)
Lelong (2.2 million monthly web visits in Q3 2019)
Zalora (1.3 million monthly web visits in Q3 2019)
PG Mall (876 thousand monthly web visits in Q3 2019)20
Platforms like Shopee and Lazada have separate sections on their website dedicated to showcasing health & beauty products. Combined with the high traffic volume, you can ensure that your products are seen by many online shoppers in Malaysia. These platforms often run promotional discounts to entice shoppers to shop more on their platform, like Shopee’s Health & Beauty Wednesday,21 so you can choose to take part in the promotional campaign to attract more shoppers to your product.
Popular general eCommerce platforms can also act as a marketing channel for your products when you participate in their promotional campaigns, but if you’re looking to expand your digital footprint, social media is a great channel to reach your consumers. The country has an 81 per cent social media usage amongst internet users in Hootsuite/We are social’s 2020 report, spend 2 ¾ hours in a day on social media, and have 9 accounts per user on average.22
To tie up your eCommerce experience for your Malaysian shoppers, it is essential to have a trusted eCommerce logistics partner to get your products from your customer’s first click right to their doorstep. eCommerce platforms and logistics service providers who are familiar with Malaysia’s customs regulations can simplify the international shipping experience for all types of merchants. A reliable delivery tops off the eCommerce experience of your online shoppers, ensuring that you are able to win them over as you’re entering this diverse market.
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