My entry into the retail business happened by accident. In 2013, I returned home from an overseas stint with what I thought was a great product that would simply fly off the shelves at major stores and supermarkets. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For two years, I felt like the ‘punching bag’ of the retail industry as the complexities of trying to list in physical stores simply overwhelmed me, ‘newbie’ that I was.
But I was determined not to give up. Sometime in 2015, I saw the potential that e-commerce presented, as an easier and more cost-efficient way to get my products into the market. I took a chance on what was then a relative new player in the market, RedMart, and since then have hardly looked back.
Today, RedMart is the biggest e-grocery marketplace in Singapore and my company, Business Engineers Asia (BEA), has evolved beyond selling on RedMart to being a strategic partner to them, helping local entrepreneurs and foreign companies venture into Singapore’s modern retail market.
Prior to COVID-19, e-commerce was already recognised as strategically important for the future of business. However, it was still not regarded as critical to business sustainability, but rather as an added channel for business growth and value creation. COVID-19’s fast spread and profound impact changed all this.
In fact, e-commerce is now seen as the antidote to the pandemic and as key to overcoming the challenges posed by the current business climate and conditions. My own business picked up rapidly and we continued our own progress as we also became strategic partners with NTUC Marketplace. That we are today strategic partners to some major e-commerce market players, as well as we are helping local and foreign companies succeed in the e-commerce space, are strong endorsements of our prescience, we believe.
The mistake is in assuming that just setting up an online store is sufficient.
The Singapore government’s direction is also very clear – it has introduced incentive schemes for businesses to “go online”, including setting up online stores, with a focus on business sustainability and growth. These incentives can greatly support businesses in covering their costs of transition and in implementing the framework for own online stores. A whole slew of businesses took advantage of these incentives to set up online stores, however most faced challenges in ramping up sales via their online stores.
The mistake is in assuming that just setting up an online store is sufficient. There are many facets to building a strong foundation for an online store. I present here three important keys to success:
Attraction factor: product variety
Consumers are always looking for convenience and a one-stop shop. A diverse product portfolio as such is important. Whether it is the business’s own brand of products or a variety of products under different brands, the selection of products on offer, the variations and more importantly, their positioning are key to attracting consumers shopping at a particular e-store. One of the key reasons why my company was able to position ourselves appealingly to be the strategic partners to two of Singapore’s two marketplaces is that we offered 5000-plus SKUs from over 200 brands, from both local and foreign business entities, through a unique business model that we developed.
Retention factor: last mile delivery with customer engagement
With a choice of e-commerce storefronts in the market now, last mile delivery is becoming a game changer. Singapore’s last mile delivery for ecommerce consists of established players such as NinjaVan, J&T, QExpress, UrbanFox as well as small startup establishments positioning themselves in various unique ways. It is important to understand how these last mile delivery companies operate and what their strengths and weaknesses are, as the entity fulfilling this will also contribute to the whole shopping experience, and hence your ability to retain your customers as well as maintaining positive word-of-mouth. The ability of a business to ensure timely and proper delivery of a customer’s order is now a necessity rather than a ‘nice-to-have’. Follow through engagements with your customers i.e., soliciting feedback on if the order was well received, was the delivery timely, etc. will go a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction, especially if they reveal issues in your processes which need to be addressed quickly, before you lose customers.
We practice this with some special clients like an online Italian furniture company where we tie up with a local last mile delivery partner to ensure that the customer has the benefit of special delivery times and personalised support.
Enhancement factor: 24×7 mentality
As consumer’s expectations grow, online stores need to be able to demonstrate why they are different. According to statistics, availability of meeting a consumer’s needs 24×7 is a strong differentiating factor. Our work with two of the biggest marketplaces in Singapore bear this out – there is a distinct rise in online orders just before a weekend as well as during the weekends. There is also demand for shorter delivery cycles. While being online offers the customer a 24×7 shopping availability, 24×7 fulfilment could be a further positive experience, helping with attraction and retention. In view of this, come 2022, we will be completely embracing the 24×7 mindset as we provide fulfillment to all our clients, even on public holidays.
If you review businesses that forayed online but are today struggling or are already defunct, you will notice that they either overlooked completely or only partially implemented one of the above three basic factors. In this day-and-age, where e-commerce storefronts are quickly proliferating and taking up more and more market share, companies just cannot afford to be half-hearted in their executions in this space.
Comment on this Topic