Mara Digital is a shell of its former self and it hasn’t even reached its first decade yet.
But what is MARA Digital and why didn’t it take off?
An incident that became an initiative
It all started at Plaza Low Yat in 2015 involving a Malay man who was caught stealing at a local mobile phone store in the mall.
After the incident, the man returned with a few people to the shopping mall later at night for revenge and caused RM70,000 in damages to the shop.
It dragged on for a few days as many Malay NGOs went in droves to Low Yat as they believed the incident had an element of discrimination and turned it into a racial issue.
There was also the rhetoric circulating at the time that the man was actually cheated by Chinese vendors who sold him a fake phone.
This is when politicians pounced on the issue as then-Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob suggested a Malay-only digital mall – a Plaza Low Yat but with Malay vendors.
It started out quite well
To break the monopoly, the government went ahead with the plan for a single-race digital shopping mall, situated within the MARA building at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur.
Established by Malay empowerment agency, Majlis Amanah Rakyat, MARA Digital offers products and services such as hardware and peripherals; and after-sales services.
To encourage businesses to come over to the mall, the government even foot 6-months of rental costs for vendors.
What went wrong
A few years after the opening of the first MARA Digital in Kuala Lumpur, the previous government tried to open a few more malls in other states but the reception was underwhelming to the point they had to close down.
The reason behind the discouraging performance was mainly due to the intention of the initiative – a knee-jerk reaction to an issue that blew out of proportion.
Recently, Mara Digital Mall Kuantan was closed in 2018 while Mara Digital Mall Johor ceased operations in 2019, both malls closing down within a span of three months.
The Rural Development Ministry has said they were forced to close due to low sales.
Even MARA Corp Chairman, Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi admitted that the creation of the digital mall was a politically-motivated move and not a business-driven one.
Lack of product variation, non-competitive pricing, and weak publicity are cited as contributors to poor sales turnovers and the decline in visitors.
Even the Kuala Lumpur outlet – the first one that was established years ago also struggled despite being located in the heart of the city.
The weak publicity sentiment is echoed by vendors who feel the public is unaware of the mall and there should be more marketing efforts to help the businesses.
To generate sales, the vendors even resorted to sell kerepek.
Another problem pointed out by business-owners is the single distributor, WGN Scan Sdn Bhd which reduces the profit margin because they can’t offer discounts, unlike retailers who have multiple suppliers and the freedom to do so.
A radical change is needed
After a few years in business, one thing is clear – the initiative is not working.
To encourage more foot traffic to the mall, MARA Corp decided that it could not take Low Yat head-on with plans to convert Mara Digital Mall to become a conventional shopping space instead.
It includes creating spaces for augmented or virtual reality arenas, gaming studios or co-working spaces in the mall.
To boost the number of people coming into the mall, Mara Corp even offered non-bumi enterpreneurs to set up shop there.
There’s even the possibility of Mara Digital relocating.
Unkempt in both stories and appearance, Hakim loves tech but tech left him on read, previously he used to write about tall buildings and unoccupied spaces that he can't afford, and legend has it that he still can't afford it to this day