BEING a traditional business has not stopped textile retailer Zee Shan Impex from acquiring modern digital skills, with some help from the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI).
Zee Shan Impex has been selling Malay and Muslim textiles since the 1960s. Like many traditional businesses, it took a heavy blow when the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, with sales down 80 per cent for 3 months from the start of Singapore’s ‘circuit breaker’ that April. It was not until Hari Raya Puasa that year when the business regained some of its lost footing.
Not giving up without a fight, the third generation owners – 37-year-old Muhammad Fahad Azeem and his 2 brothers – started thinking about what they could sell to capture an online audience.
“After Covid hit, many customers showed a preference to buy online,” Azeem said. “People are used to the convenience of digital platforms and the doorstep-delivery model. If we don’t get on these platforms somehow, we will be left behind.”
Zee Shan Impex has been importing Muslim abayas, a type of ethnic dress, from Dubai for the past 15 years, with a tailoring unit there and good business relations with many enterprises in that region.
Azeem was therefore familiar with the different brands of fragrances that Dubai had to offer – in particular the OUD Luxury Collection, a fragrance line that uses the agarwood or Aquilaria tree and includes perfumes, air fresheners, candles and toiletries.
The company decided to import and sell these fragrances in Singapore. In August 2020, Zee Shan Impex opened a physical showroom for the fragrances in Centropod on Changi Road, where customers can visit by appointment.
Since the original aim was to capture an online audience, it also launched a website that September, and subsequently got onto e-commerce platforms Shopee Mall and Lazada with help from SMCCI’s Digital Transformation Office (DTO), a program supported by Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG).
The company also markets the fragrances on Facebook and Instagram, through both livestreams and postings.
This January, overall sales for Zee Shan Impex were up about 35 per cent year on year, thanks to the use of digital platforms, Azeem said: “We explain the different ingredients, how long the perfumes last, what they (customers) can expect using them – and because of this, customers have over time come to trust us.”
Many customers buy online, with only some still preferring to visit the physical store, he added.
A better fit with social media
For the textile side of the business, which has a physical store at Geylang Serai Market, Zee Shan Impex has not pursued e-commerce, but instead exploits the power of social media.
“Clothing is quite complicated to sell online… some customers are wider, some are slimmer,” Azeem said. If customers order clothes online which do not fit, then they would not be satisfied, and it “doesn’t leave a good impression”.
But since April 2020, Zee Shan Impex has been using its Facebook page ‘Khadija Exquizit’ to promote its clothing, primarily through live video sessions.
“It really helped a lot during the pandemic. That was the time we realised how effective it is to reach out to customers on social media,” Azeem said. While the majority of textile sales are still physical, about 40 per cent now comes from social media.
About half of their livestream viewers are aged 45 and above, proving that the reach of digital platforms is not confined to young people, but extends to the middle-aged and older generation who have gotten used to the new ways of consumerism, Azeem noted.
Another reason for not selling textiles via e-commerce is the constantly changing appetite for designs in today’s competitive market.
“To keep up with trends, we need to constantly change the designs we have as well. Depending on the designs, the sizes are also different. It will be difficult to accommodate these changes on an online portal, unlike for relatively fixed items like our fragrances,” he noted.
The dynamic of social media, where content can be shared instantly, works better for the company’s constantly refreshed collection of textiles, Azeem added.
Expansion in South-east Asia
Zee Shan Impex currently has distributorship rights for the OUD Luxury Collection in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – and it hopes to reach more of the South-east Asian market.
The company currently owns a factory in Jakarta that produces Malay textiles such as casual dresses and blouses. Other than exporting from Indonesia, it also sells its clothes and fragrances to retail distributors in the country. It is now in the process of acquiring the relevant permits to open a store in Indonesia, which it expects to get by end-August 2022.
“It’s easy to do business in Singapore, the government and the environment is supportive, but it’s not so easy in other countries. We will open a store in Indonesia soon, and we hope to set up a store in Malaysia and Brunei by the end of next year,” Azeem said.
Meanwhile, the company intends to find the right partners and research on the cultural backgrounds and tastes of consumers in both Malaysia and Brunei.
Revamped digital tools
SMEs hoping to enter livestreaming, like Zee Shan Impex did, can tap SMCCI’s revamped DTO 2.0 and its new Digital Hub. There, they can access digital media production tools to explore or build on their knowledge of production, livestreaming, photography and more, said Fazli Mansor, board director of SMCCI.
“Based on the feedback gathered from DTO clients and members, we have found that businesses are increasingly interested in venturing into new digital trends such as production, livestream sales and more,” Mansor noted.
DTO 2.0 introduces new concepts and focus areas, to provide greater assistance to businesses looking to venture into new trends and markets.
Each business that is part of the DTO will receive a customised 1-on-1 advisory on up-to-date and future-ready digital solutions suitable for them. This ensures that the businesses receive all-rounded support at every stage of digital adoption, whether during onboarding or in the data analytics stage, Mansor said.
“DTO 2.0 aims to provide a one-stop centre that encourages digitalisation within the business across various levels of the ecosystem, including small and medium-sized enterprises and home-based businesses,” he added.
This is the second of a 2-part series on the SMCCI Digital Transformation Office.
Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.