First published on The Straits Times on 13 February 2020.
It takes just about five clicks to complete an online purchase, from filling your shopping basket to paying for your items and arranging for delivery.
But behind your computers and mobile phone screens, retail companies wrestle with a complex web of logistics to make sure these parcels arrive at your doorstep — in one piece and on time.
In 2014, siblings Clement Lee, 51, and Zanetta Lee, 44, formed Synagie Corporation with their friend Ms Olive Tai, 45, when they realised that businesses needed help navigating these processes.
The company offers firms end-to-end e-commerce services, from cataloguing and marketing to warehousing and lastmile delivery, as well as a cloud-based platform, powered by real-time data analytics and artificial intelligence.
It has more than 100 employees across five South-east Asian countries, and counts brands such as Johnson & Johnson and Shiseido among its over 280 customers.
E-commerce made easy
Synagie’s industry foresight has helped it to reap the benefits of South-east Asia’s booming e-commerce sector, which is on track to hit US$153 billion (S$213 billion) by 2025 — more than four times its current annual value. This is based on a 2019 report by Temasek, Google and Bain & Company.
According to a study by global research firm Statista and The Straits Times, Synagie is now the fastest-growing company in Singapore with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 340 per cent.
“It’s a huge market that is growing at a phenomenal speed,” said Mr Lee, Synagie’s chief executive officer.
“And selling goods and services online is especially important for Singapore companies because of our small domestic market.”
This is Synagie’s area of speciality. The company helps retail businesses to set up virtual stores on websites and online shopping platforms such as Lazada, Shopee and Qoo10. It also creates marketing strategies for these companies, based on the regions and audiences they are targeting.
“South-east Asia is a ‘jungle’, which means the strategy has to be different from country to country,” said Mr Lee. “We have experience writing compelling content, and use artificial intelligence to detect flaws, such as descriptions that are not attention- grabbing or emotional enough.”
One of the company’s key selling points is its role as an integrated “back office” for retail businesses. It helps to manage and automate value chains, overseeing everything from inventory management to last-mile deliveries, and provides data- driven insights to improve its clients’ businesses.
“For example, if people often buy snacks and soft drinks at the same time, we would suggest that some of our clients explore a cross-brand promotion,” he said.
From local to regional
Synagie’s easy-to-use services have helped it to expand its footprint across Asia.
In 2019, the company inked a number of partnerships with regional brands such as Lazada, Kosé and global sporting giant Amer Sports Malaysia to strengthen its foothold in the region. It plans to open a new office in Indonesia this year, adding to its bases in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
It is also working with enterprise development agency Enterprise Singapore to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore go global through e-commerce.
The project will provide SMEs with end-to-end solutions, including business advisory, content development, big data analytics, cross-border warehousing and fulfilment, and will help companies to sell online in regional and international marketplaces, using Synagie’s cloud-based e-commerce platform.
“Our technological capabilities and regional network offer unique advantages to SMEs. We look forward to helping them manage and scale their businesses digitally across borders,” said Ms Tai, Synagie’s executive director.
Mr Lee added that Synagie plans to expand its market share in South-east Asia to better help companies prepare for the future. “We just created an entire department to help SMEs sell in other countries. We want to have a firm foothold in the region and we want our presence to be able to better serve our brand partners.”
Synagie’s journey to regional growth
By the time the founders of Synagie had set up the company in 2014, they had chalked up decades of business experience between them.
Mr Clement Lee had spent more than 20 years in the lifestyle and entertainment sector, his sister more than 15 years in the automotive and retail industry, and Ms Olive Tai more than 20 years in companies handling fast-moving consumer goods.
“We could see that more and more people were buying things online rather than in stores, and many brands that we were working with were asking us for help to sell on different online channels,” said Mr Lee, Synagie’s chief executive officer.
Seeking out strategic partners
While the co-founders were convinced that their company met a pressing need in the market, they realised that finding the right partners was key to growth.
Last May, Synagie partnered postal service SingPost to provide on-demand warehousing and fulfilment services to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South-east Asia (SEA).
“This gave us access to 70,000 sq ft (6,503 sq m) of warehouses, and lets us ride on SingPost’s international delivery network if we need to,” said Mr Lee.
A month later, it partnered Weimob, a solutions provider for mobile app We- Chat, to help firms in SEA enter China’s social e-commerce market.
Mr Lee explained: “Weimob has the experience and infrastructure in China. It can tell us how we should position products, whether prices are too low or high, and how to create social media buzz.”
Growing a business isn’t without its risks. Last year, Synagie approached Enterprise Singapore for support in crafting an enterprise risk management policy.
The framework is expected to be finalised by the end of this year, and will help the company to manage potential risks as it expands in the region.
“Through this process, we can institute ways to mitigate risks,” said Synagie’s executive director Olive Tai. “For example, we have made it mandatory to password- protect job résumés so we don’t break any personal data protection laws.”