The Peak Women We Love 2023: Sue Ann Chew

Sue Ann Chew of Shopper 360 is keen to push in-store advertising to brave new frontiers

Our annual homage to the Women We Love features six women who have dazzled in their determination to succeed in life.

Text by Ellfian Rahim

Sue Ann Chew

Sue Ann Chew

The art of in-store advertising is defined as the practice of promoting brands and products by addressing consumers directly at a physical store. It’s also definitely a subject that Sue Ann Chew of consumer marketing services outfit, Shopper 360, never tires talking about. “My dad, Raymond Chew, founded one of the pioneering in-store advertising outfits in Malaysia. Called Post Ad back in the 1990s. But you know what? The core business is pretty much still retail advertising,” she explains. “Over time, and since I took over after my father passed away in 2011.It became clear that everyone had their money on digital advertising. We also felt that this digital element was the missing component in our own business. So, we went into digital advertising too… but specifically for a retail environment.”

She then reveals that in-store media was a 60% contributor to revenue and profit during her dad’s time in the previous decades. All the other subsidiaries at the time – like merchandising, which is providing manpower for FMCG companies, or activation at events –just contributed about 20% each. “But now, the latter segments started becoming more prominent than in-store advertising. Hence, we started adding things like digital media, digital contests, digital creatives and even retail consultancy to our list of services.

New Technology

“For example, we did a retail consultancy for the many Shell Shops at the petroleum brand’s fuel kiosks. We sent our field agents to audit and discover what’s really going on in these shops, what’s lacking and what needs to be rapidly innovated, and we rebuilt that part of the business for them.”

Back in college, Chew remembers her dad flatly refusing to get her a car. Even though all her course mates had one. “I recall being very angry and did the whole teenage girl angst trip on him. But on hindsight, I know now that he wanted to teach me how to be grateful for all the things I already had then. Not to feel entitled, to work hard and earn my keep. Yes, he definitely made me appreciate more the struggle for success, and the thrill of winning something.”

She remembers him as a wonderful mentor. Who always gave her with a lot of affirmation and confidence. “He always told me that my generation will be better than his own. So, over the years after he was gone, I’ve always felt that I could be myself, yet also easily able to step into his shoes when I need to, and still do what is authentic to me. That only happens when one has such an encouraging parent.

A New Way to Advertise

“I wrote a book about him because I felt he was so many different leaders in one – father, husband, business owner, innovator – and I wanted to encapsulate his whole life, and how he revolutionised the retail advertising environment in Malaysia. In the end, I was the only one out of his four daughters who had the privilege of working with him. I did begin my career at another company, but eventually joined him a few years later, and when I did, he asked me to be on the company’s board, and made me a management trainee.”

To this day, Chew is impressed by her dad’s marketing prowess and is convinced he could easily sell ice to the Eskimos. “Plus, his people skills were very strong – that’s why so many companies were convinced to invest in our services. He’s also very detailed. When he took over the Institute for Advertising and Communication Training (IACT) college, he put me in charge of revamping the campus on Petaling Jaya’s Jalan Utara, but he personally tested out the new water fountains that had been installed, just in case!”

A New Era With Shopper 360

Now, as Executive Chairman and Group Managing Director of Shopper 360. It has been Chew’s turn to shine as she transforms her father’s legacy into a dynamic one-stop shop for any visionary entrepreneur. “There are five stages in marketing: awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty and advocacy,” she says. “We offer services that will speak to consumers at every one of these stages. For instance, if you have a new product, how would you get it into the hands of consumers these days? We take pride in our ability to help our clients build consumer awareness towards products that are sold within physical retail outlets.”

She then runs through the steps of such an exercise. First, Shopper 360 begins building awareness with effective in-store advertising. Once that’s done, there’s then the merchandising stage. “Say, you’re looking for Milo, and what if you went to the shelf at your favourite supermarket, and it was empty? Basically, it’s our own merchandisers’ duty to make sure that Milo is always available and on display. They also make sure that any expired goods are not on display, too.

“For a new brand that’s reaching out for consumers, we have our team of promoters and event movers to assist. They help introduce consumers to new products on the market via sampling activities,” continues Chew. “And, yes, when someone purchases a product, then it’s considered a ‘conversion’. To support this, we’ve put together loyalty programmes and exciting digital contest to ensure that consumers come back for more and continue experiencing the product, thus encapsulating the ‘loyalty’ part of the exercise.”

The Future of Advertising

Finally, ‘advocacy’ comes into play when a consumer is totally convinced by a brand and starts talking about it on social media posts, she reveals. This sort of engagement is, of course, prevalent in the digital world. And she has an in-house digital advertising agency to help out her clients with branding and marketing for this.

At the height of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Chew recalls that many potential new customers came to her to help them get their products onto e-commerce channels as they’ve never done it before. “This prompted me to invest in five different companies, one of which is the Potboy convenience store and online retail chain, with over 70 physical stores throughout Malaysia and a robust online shopping service. We then introduced many of our own e-commerce ‘virgin’ clients to Potboy, so they could start trading via its platform.

Investing in the Future of Advertising

“Then, we invested in Lapasar – a wholesale B 2B platform. A lot of these traditional mom-and-pop kind of shops go to wholesalers or are customers of hypermarkets. Lapasar just makes it easier for small businesses to restock. They just go online and order, and goods will be delivered within 48 hours. This way, these small ‘kedai runcit’ businesses need not close shop. Just so that the owners can restock the old-fashioned way. These digital services investments greatly aided our own customers who were facing supply problems. As a result of the pandemic movement restrictions.

“We also invested in Avinity Analytics, an artificial intelligence (AI) technology company. This technology partner gathers all sorts of different data, and puts in a format that’s easily understandable. So those who subscribe to this service from us can easily view their corporate business records on a digital dashboard. And take appropriate action when necessary.”

Chew reveals that Avinity Analytics has already assisted another big-name client, this time Nestle, to identify opportunities for increasing its sales. “This was done by taking data gathered from past input by our own merchandisers. The data is fed into our AI system to identify which products from the brand are in high demand. This allows businesses to stock these ‘star’ products more effectively to generate more sales.”

Sue Ann Chew On Cutting-Edge Solutions

Chew points out that this smart innovation allows companies to plan promotional exercises with the appropriate amount of supporting supplies. “I invest in such technologically advanced companies to give my own customers cutting-edge solutions to help their own businesses. Sure, after 30 years of doing what we do. We are already connected to more than enough retail support services. In-store advertising, promoter services, merchandising services, also sales and distribution. But what about helping my clients even more by giving them accurate and actionable business insights, as well to plan future promotions more effectively with?”

Meanwhile, an even more recently introduced service sees her company dabbling in the human resource aspect of businesses. “Hwawei, Samsung, Honor and Xiaomi in Malaysia now use us to manage their staff payroll, their claims, leave days and such. These companies want to focus on the sales, promotions and advertising of their products, and prefer to let everything else be managed professionally by a qualified third party.”

She’s also quick to point out, however, that the whole notion of ‘advertising’ is very much here to stay. “There’re so many different kinds – outdoor billboard, influencer marketing, public relation and even affiliate marketing… so advertising budgets are being steadily diluted. That’s why we’re also evolving our earning potential by investing in new HR systems. With app and web support to make staff processes faster and smoother. And for me as a business owner, I won’t need to spend too much on hiring too many people. As I have access to new systems and digital tool, too. Everything is fast, paper-less and infinitely convenient.”


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