The Cyberzone facade in SM Bacolod is one of many branches that depict the modern and sleek green lines and pixel accents reminiscent of futuristic tech designs.

Amid the energetic confusion of Manila’s streets, or in the thick of traffic under the sweltering sun, Filipinos from all walks of life are not without their most trusted companion nowadays: a gadget.

Whether it is the latest Smartphone made from China, Korea or Europe, or a simple headset and music player that drowns out the city noise or perhaps a smartwatch that measures the number of steps you take, the Philippines continues to be a voracious consumer of technology–from the prolific use of computers in the 1980s; to the breakout of the World Wide Web in the 1990s; to the emergence of Facebook and texting in 2000 leading up to the moniker “texting capital of the world”; and to the massive influence of social media we know today.

Well familiar with this market is SM which has been at the forefront of ushering new concepts and trends in technology in the retail space to Filipino consumers throughout the decades with SM Cyberzone.

SM sought to provide a venue in its malls that aimed to incubate new ideas and products as technology platforms, anchored on its core value of innovation. Poised to expand further in the Philippines with SM malls, SM Cyberzone tapped into the strength of the malls by creating prime areas for the greater convenience of its shoppers. The inspiration for Cyberzone was retail complex Sim Lim Square in Singapore, a hub for the latest in gadgets and tech innovation.

“Back then, people would travel to Singapore because it’s cheap and complete. We wanted to have something like that in every SM mall. That’s why we started growing SM Cyberzone as a concept,” Froilan Manotok, Assistant Vice President for SM Cyberzone said.

The brainchild of Mr. Hans Sy, SM Cyberzone started out as a lifestyle store in the Carpark building of SM City North EDSA in 1998. With the entry of a new millenium, SM malls began to designate an area in each mall to feature IT concepts, branding it later as SM Cyberzone.

As technology advanced, so too did the products carried by SM Cyberzone which evolved from desktops, printers, cellphones to laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches and digital printers that catered to the hefty consumption for technology and social media especially by millenials.  

Buying gadgets also comes with certain risks. One of the biggest benefits of shopping in SM Cyberzone says Mr. Manotok is that it offers shoppers a secure place to buy gadgets.

“SM Cyberzone provides a secure place to buy what people need that are tech-related. The main strength is being in an SM mall which gives further security especially with the tenants’ warranties and after sales service,” Mr. Manotok said.

Big brother

As a tenant, Allan Miones, 35, who owns Cyberstar, a dealer of multi-branded mobile phones said he felt secure in locating in an SM mall given the malls round-the-clock security while also learning the ropes in operating in the tech business through SM Cyberzone.

With his humble beginnings as a former Xerox machine operator, Mr. Miones said he put up his first kiosk which sells mobile phones in SM City Lucena. Today, he has about 100 kiosks in SM and Waltermart malls.

“Sa mall, mas secure yung staff ko, at yung business. Naisip ko din na maganda ang pagtakbo.  Maayos yung process from application to operation (In the malls, my staff and my business are secure. I thought of how it ran its business and the process is organized from application to operation),” Mr. Miones said. “Sa SM andun na lahat. At maganda ang service. Pumunta ka lang sa Hypermarket at meron nagche-cheer. Sa SM, maski hindi ka bibili, bumabati sila (sales staff). Marami ako ideas na nakukuha sa SM na ginagamit ko sa business (In SM, they have everything. And the service is good. Even if you go to SM Hypermarket, there is someone greeting and cheering you. So even if you don’t buy anything, they always greet you. There are so many ideas I have picked up from SM),” he added.

Engr. Rolando Raval, Jr., Vice President for Operations at Octagon Philippines with over 100 branches nationwide said that locating in SM Cyberzone allows shoppers to easily access their store if they have specific shopping needs. Octagon’s biggest store is currently located in SM Megamall, spanning about 900 sqm and was one of the first computer stores to introduce the “touch and go” concept to the retail market.

“People go to SM malls because everything is there, cinemas, shopping and food. The foot traffic in the malls has, in a way, accelerated expansion for locators in SM Cyberzone,” Engr. Raval said.

 As a market leader, its stores and services form the most interactive and technological experience for its shoppers, featuring diverse brands in mobile phones, cameras, software, hardware, games, accessories and tech-related services.

Over the years, SM Cyberzone has served as a solid springboard for entrepreneurs to launch new tech ideas. Erick Chua, 33, the owner of mobile clothing brand Halo, said the company started with SM Fairview in 2009. “It started out as a small business venture. In 2009, we applied with SM’s Leasing Department and we were very happy when Ma’am Tessie (Ms. Teresita Sy-Coson) gave us the approval,” Mr. Chua recounted.

“Our main goal was to grow with SM. That year, we opened seven branches of Halo with the majority in SM malls. We practically grew with SM and Cyberzone. SM allows an ecosystem of business people to sell their goods,” he said.

Mr. Chua said that this ecosystem allows a level playing field for newbies as well as spurs new jobs and creates business activity.

“We started with three employees.  Now, we are hiring almost 1,000 people because of SM since majority of our operations are in SM malls. There are a lot of businesses and brands that rely on SM. SM gave us a chance to hire more people and give them a purpose in life,” Mr. Chua said.

Tech Explosion

With robust demand for new technology every year, Cyberzone is poised to continue on its growth path in the next few years. SM Cyberzone is also slated to convert a number of smaller IT zones in SM malls, mostly in the provinces, into Cyberzones that span between 2,000 to 5,000 square meters in floor area to house more tech-related brands and services.

Cyberzone features a number of top international concept stores including Samsung, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Sony, Asus, Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, Canon, Nikon as well as telco giants Smart, Globe and Sun. Cyberzone is also known as a venue for the biggest gaming and tech-related events.

Today, Cyberzone has over 40 branches nationwide and is home to over 2,500  I.T. stores. Cyberzone offers a full range of shopping, leisure, and entertainment and is at the forefront of consumer electronics.

Beyond technology, Cyberzone has also facilitated better customer experience, ensuring that tenant-after-sales service is intact and provides a good opportunity for growth and expansion for entrepreneurs aligned with the malls’ catalyst role, turning dreams into reality.

“For every young individual in this country, dreams do come true. If you have a nice concept and you just work hard, you can grow with SM,” Halo’s Mr. Chua said.

At the opening of Cyberzone, SM Trece Martires