Saturday, 25 February 2017

(The Star) E-commerce plus retail outlets

E-commerce was the popular route for new businesses as an easier way to set up their enterprise and keep overhead costs low.

But more and more online businesses are now choosing to open brick-and-mortar shops.

Two such enterprises are FashionValet and ChristyNg Shoes.

For Christy Ng who founded the ChristyNg Shoes, progressing towards establishing a presence in the physical world is not an unusual path.

In order to give customers a unified experience for both retail and online, FashionValet provides a service that allows their customers to look up the items they are looking for online at the retail store itself.

“If you look at the most successful e-commerce retailers in the world, such as Asos or Amazon, they all have brick-and-mortar stores.

“Essentially, e-commerce stores are a digitalisation and modernisation of an existing traditional business.

“So I would say all these e-commerce stores are successful because of the existing physical presence globally,” said Ng.

Since her four-year-old business is considered comparatively young in the market, she believes that by opening a physical store it would complement the portfolio of her online shop.

“The reason why we decided to open a brick-and-mortar store is because we want to go the opposite direction of what the traditional retailers are doing.

“So with every physical store we open, we also see a correlation of increase in our sales figures.

The Skinny Bakers first cafe called Escapade is located at SS15 in Subang Jaya.

“This is very promising, because after we opened our first store in 1Utama shopping centre, Petaling Jaya, in 2016, we saw a significant increase in sales for our online store as well,” she said.

Ng, who has opened up another physical store in Jaya One, also in Petaling Jaya, early in the year, said it would enable her to reach a market that was inaccessible to her online store.

Having a strong online presence, she said, provided an accessibility for consumers, so it was unnecessary to open a store in every suburb.

“We see untapped potential and by opening one or two stores, it will not cannibalise our e-commerce business.

“In fact, it will supercharge the e-commerce business and we will have more revenue, especially since the nature of our product are shoes, which requires a physical store to attract customers,” she said, adding that customers could try on the items on sale.

“Our physical stores cater to customers who are sceptical about buying our products online,” said Ng.

Despite the success of her online business and while response from customers to the physical stores was good, the designer said it was difficult to maintain a brick-and-mortar shop as it required more manpower than an online store would.

Having different teams for the online and physical stores is also practised by FashionValet.

Its head of marketing, Veen Dee Tan said there should be two teams managing each store for better performance.

One of FashionValets aim is to champion local designers. By launching a retail store, local designers can showcase their products for customers touch and feel.

She acknowledged that a lot of customers still largely preferred the touch-and-feel approach when buying things.

“Many people think that by setting up an online store, the world will see their website, but the situation is actually very different.

“FashionValet is almost six years old, but we have traffic only from 10 countries,” she said, adding that maintaining the online store was harder as the business grew.

“So, starting an online store is easy because it is cheap and you only need a team of three people, but it is hard to maintain because you need to draw people to your website all the time and you have to target different groups.

“As such, running an online business is more tricky whereas physical retail is more tedious because it requires long hours of labour and you have to stand, have to smile always and cater to difficult customers,” she pointed out.

Tan, however, said online businesses should not open up brick-and-mortar shops without doing research on the type of customers and their location.

FashionValets retail stores caters for the group of people who still prefers the touch-and-feel process of shopping.

“We started with a pop-up store first during Hari Raya Aidilfitri and we did well.

“Only then did we decide to open an actual physical store,” she said, adding that FashionValet had stores in Bangsar Village II and Pavilion Kuala Lumpur aside from Singapore and Indonesia.

Besides fashion designers and retailers, the Internet also allows homebakers and cottage industries a convenient avenue to sell their wares.

Unlike the majority of online homebakers, The Skinny Bakers broadened its market by using many platforms, including opening up a cafe.

“Online businesses only target a small number of customers.

“If we keep our presence to solely virtual, we will not be able to meet our customers.

“Since opening our cafe, we have been able to establish more connections and receive more wedding orders,” said The Skinny Bakers managing director Eniza Fasiha Elias, who is one of the founders of the mother-daughter bakery partnership.

She said having a physical shop also helped them attract new business prospects such as offers to open up in shopping centres.

Part of the mother-daughter team of the Skinny Bakers, Rogaya Ahmad believes that by opening up a cafe, they are able to stamp the credibility of their company as well as their products.— THE SKINNY BAKERS

Eniza’s mother, Rogaya Ahmad said if they did not open up a cafe, people might not be confident about their products.

“If you say you have a shop, it builds up more credibility,” said Rogaya.

Despite the conventional idea that shopping online is a more convenient method, lawyer Farah Syazwani Mokhtar, 29, believes that shopping at a physical store was much quicker.

“Unless there is an online promotion, there is no price difference buying clothes online or at a store.

“All I have to do is drop by the shop during lunch hour if I need to get something and not wait for the item to be delivered,” she said.

She pointed out that brick-and-mortar stores came in handy for one buying expensive items or needing something urgently.

“I prefer to try on clothes that I am buying for Hari Raya, but if it is just regular clothes-shopping, I will buy them online,” she added.