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21 Apr 2020 Updated 23 Jun 2020

E-commerce help for retail SMEs

The Business Times Leila Lai

A Qxpress worker moving goods at a Qoo10 warehouse in Singapore. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
A Qxpress worker moving goods at a Qoo10 warehouse in Singapore. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HOBBLED by Singapore's "circuit breaker" measures forcing them to shutter physical stores, small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the retail sector are having to rely on online channels for sales, some of them for the first time in their history.

 

Fortunately, help is at hand from the Singapore E-Commerce Programme and the individual efforts of the e-commerce platforms involved. Administered by Enterprise Singapore, the programme will cover 90 per cent of the costs to set up operations on Amazon Singapore, Lazada Singapore, Qoo10 and Shopee for companies that do so from now until Sept 30, 2020.

The e-commerce companies are extending more support based on their knowledge of what SMEs need to succeed online. Qoo10 general manager Sam Too noted that e-commerce requires much more effort to set up and maintain than many think.

The management tools, delivery channels and competition in pricing and quality are also different from the physical retail space, said Bernard Tay, country leader for Amazon.sg seller services and head of Amazon global selling for South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

To maximise the SMEs' chances of success, the four companies have put together their own multi-faceted support plans for participants in the Singapore E-Commerce Programme.

Amazon Singapore

SMEs that join the Singapore arm of the online retail giant will get access to training workshops and seller conferences, more than 200 tools and features to manage their businesses and support in areas like content creation, business reporting and inventory management.

For SMEs under the programme, Amazon will waive the Amazon.sg monthly subscription fee of S$29.90 per seller per month until the end of the year, as well as fees for all deal exposure on the website. It will also extend its sponsorship of account management support for these SMEs for at least six more months after the programme ends.

Amazon is also one of the two platforms with its own dedicated delivery service. Sellers can choose to have the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) service handle picking, packing and shipping of orders. Products handled by FBA are automatically eligible for Prime free shipping, making them more appealing to Amazon Prime customers.

The platform's global reach is another attractive feature. "Once the retailer gets familiar with operating on Amazon Singapore, they can easily transfer the knowledge to scale their business to reach a global audience through 16 other Amazon marketplaces around the world," said Mr Tay.

Lazada Singapore

The Alibaba-backed platform, which boasts the highest Web traffic among e-commerce platforms in Singapore, has a dedicated team to train and support retailers joining the programme.

The support will cover areas like content development, product listings, training, advertising and performing sales data analytics. CEO James Chang noted that the platform uses the same engine as Taobao, meaning that sellers will have access to the same marketing tools and data analytics insights as the biggest e-commerce company in the world.

Lazada Singapore will train businesses on its proprietary tools for crafting content and building online campaigns. It will also encourage them to tap multiple channels for online interaction, such as chat features and livestreaming to connect directly with customers and highlight products, said Mr Chang. It will waive commissions for new LazMall sellers for the first 30 days, and plans to host online campaigns specially for SMEs, similar to an Online Tech Show it held for sellers hit by the postponement of the popular IT Show in March.

Qoo10

Qoo10 has been in Singapore since 2010, making it the oldest of the four platforms in terms of local expertise. Said Mr Too: "Our decade of experience in understanding our merchants' pain points, as well as our own challenges in helping traditional retailers come into the online space, allow us to sidestep potential pitfalls and create smoother processes."

Qoo10 will provide SMEs in the programme with support packages for aspects like content creation, marketing and logistics, which can be stacked or used "a la carte". One of the packages includes six months of support from a dedicated account manager.

Mr Too noted that another challenge SMEs face is that online marketing can be complicated and does not necessarily come cheap. Qoo10 plans to boost visibility of these local sellers by creating a curated page to showcase and promote them.

Qoo10's Qxpress service makes it the other of the two platforms with a dedicated delivery arm. Qxpress is keeping a close eye on the daily volume of deliveries, in order to monitor and anticipate when more manpower will be needed, Mr Too said.

Shopee

The e-commerce subsidiary of Singapore-based Sea Group is making local sellers and SMEs a priority. For instance, it has created a #SGUnited Shopee Support Local campaign with a dedicated microsite that directs traffic to local sellers and offers vouchers to attract more customers.

On Monday, it launched a Shopee Seller Support Package worth S$1 million, similarly targeted at local sellers and SMEs. On top of sponsoring more vouchers in the #SGUnited campaign, it will also offer two to four weeks of free enrolment in its cashback and free shipping programme for local sellers not already enrolled, plus vouchers and paid advertising credits for new and existing programme members. SMEs joining the platform will undergo a 12-week incubation programme with a dedicated point of contact to help during the set-up process. Shopee will provide fulfilment and marketing support, including free paid advertising, vouchers and flash deals worth up to S$8,000 per seller.

The company's knowledge of the regional markets will enable it to help Singapore retailers better reach customers in neighbouring countries, said Shopee's chief commercial officer Zhou Junjie. "As a homegrown e-commerce platform, we tap into our comprehensive understanding of the region to adapt to the different nuances in every market," he said.

The future of local retail

With the novel coronavirus outbreak serving as a catalyst, the e-commerce companies hope this initiative will spark the next stage of evolution for Singapore's retailers.

Said Qoo10's Mr Too: "Today, increasing availability and acceptance of e-payment methods, and the rising popularity of cross-border commerce, and even the extended effects of the Covid-19 pandemic make it a perfect time to come on board the e-commerce bandwagon."

Lazada's Mr Chang noted that the E-Commerce Programme will jump-start the process of gaining recognition and publicity through e-commerce and set SMEs on the path to remaining competitive in the long term.

Shopee's Mr Zhou agreed, saying: "Establishing a strong online presence carries benefits that will enable businesses to evolve their retail strategies into more holistic and effective ones."

Time spent building an online brand now will pay off when restrictions are lifted. This is because a strong online presence will help sales grow on offline channels as well, said Mr Tay of Amazon Singapore. "In the long term, this will provide small businesses with the opportunity to compete with the biggest brands locally and globally, expanding their footprints across borders and making e-commerce one of their major distribution channels," he said.

 

Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.