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Grocery Store Chains in Malaysia: Monitoring Local Brand Awareness From Search Data


Depending on the generation you ask, the idea of a ‘grocery store’ can change drastically.

Ask someone born in the 1950s? They see a small, family-run greengrocer – the center of the town, and a community hub more than anything else.

Or those born in, say, the 1980s? They’d very likely picture the rise of booming supermarkets, a one-stop-shop for all of the family’s needs.

And for someone born in the year 2000, they’d likely answer with a mix of both, plus a deliver-to-you-door (sometimes the same day) service from online sites.

But what about someone born in 2020? What might the words ‘grocery store’ mean to them, in 20 years time? Will it all be automated, everything only ever a couple of clicks away, with one or two huge international conglomerates dominating the industry?

The answer is that only time will tell for definite – but we can certainly take a look into search insights & trends data to get a pretty good idea.

Let’s dive in.

Online searches are clearly rising – and 7 Eleven & 99 Speedmart are dominating

If anything is made clear from the following data, it’s that convenience is key.

Many of Malaysia’s top performing grocery store chains – and ultimately those that are most searched – offer comprehensive, to-your-door services, with the most advanced of these arguably being the chain Mydin (think Amazon, but purely for groceries).

The above graph, sourced from the search trends insights tool, breaks down the total volume of searches, which saw an average of 758K per month during the period. It also breaks down each brand’s share of the volume with color coding.

The figures show that over the last 46 months, total search volume pertaining to grocery stores in Malaysia has risen from just over 400k per month, to the peak of a whopping 1.2M at the end of last year – adjusting down slightly once again to around 900k as of last month.

And, looking at the data, the share of each brand stays somewhat the same as each month passes by, with 7 Eleven and 99 Speedmart dominating search volumes in the more recent months. Interestingly, Tesco gained volume share slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which then drained out once again from around January 2022 onwards.

Note: The search trends figures in this section also includes Google Maps search aka drive-to-store search queries.

In this table, we see the monthly breakdown of search volume as a percentage, across almost all of 2021. This period was especially prevalent for Tesco in terms of their search volume percentages, which saw them peak in search popularity at the start of the year (at around 19-20% of total searches). The chain Family Mart also saw a steady uptake during this same period, from their low of just 8.5% at the start of the year, doubling to around 15% towards the end.

One of the most useful things we can look at to identify trends is the plotting of year-on-year growth vs year-to-date volume, which more often than not reveals some incredibly interesting data points. In the above graph, for instance, we see that during the defined 2023 vs 2022 period, grocery stores under the Lotus’s brand saw a huge increase of over 100% in growth – sitting at just shy of 280k overall search volume in the year-to-date period until March 22nd, 2023, which is the date from which this data was taken.

Notably, the two giants mentioned in the above tables experienced less impressive growth across the year, with 7 Eleven and 99 Speedmart growing around 50% and 20% respectively. It’s also interesting to note from this graph that Tesco, a huge, UK-based supermarket brand (which is the world’s third largest retailer) experienced a dramatic 60% fall in growth – which was sold to and absorbed by Lotus’s in 2020. Many economic commentators put this failure, and eventual sale, down to an unwillingness to address cultural differences.

If we take a step back and look at the wider picture of the data, we see that overall volume grew by 34% from 2022 to 2023, and a huge 105% when comparing the same year to 2021.

Tesco: A Fall From Grace

Expanding upon the point made previously, this graph again illustrates just how drastic the decline of Tesco’s share and overall volume of search queries. Having been sold to a Thai corporation, who own Lotus’s, for $10.6Bn US in the second half of 2020, the above chart shows severe fluctuation in segment evolution over time, notably spiking at the start of 2020 to around 200k, eventually falling to around 40k, where it remained towards the end of 2022. As a consequence of this sale, the graph also inevitably displays a rise of Lotus’s rising in the top 10 segments over time, tripling from under 30k at the start of the period to over 100k towards the end.

Similarly, it also illustrates the dominating force of 7 Eleven, which rose from 20k in early 2019, to recently hitting a peak of almost 200k in the last weeks of 2022.

Malaysian Grocery Stores on a Local Level

Looking at the geographical-based data, we see that among the two search rulers, the western side of Malaysia is split between both 7 Eleven and 99 Speedmart in the megacities, while the east of the country is largely dominated by 7 Eleven alone.

And when viewing’s local affinity feature, we see that the region defined as ‘Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur’ boasts 230k search volume with an 18m population, coming in top with an affinity rank of a huge 91-100%. Selangor, on the other hand, with its population of 6.1m, holds a 280k search volume, granting it an affinity rank of between just 31-40%.

A snapshot of (surprisingly mostly independent) grocery stores in downtown Kuala Lumpur, sourced from Google maps – displaying just a handful of the thousands of results.

Lastly, the above word cloud featuring 36 total search queries again reinforces the overarching names most commonly presented to anyone undertaking a Google search on the topic – with results displayed from total volumes dating back over 40 months.

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