Insights on E-commerce

By Sherry Tan

The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship. 

On 14 April 2020, Advisory organised its first Discovery+ online panel: Discovery+: E-commerce. On our panel that evening, we are privileged to have Brian Liu, Senior Vice-President, People (Group) from Lazada Group; Alin Dobrea, Regional Head (Marketing Solutions and Partnerships) from ZALORA Group; and Sharon Lourdes Paul, Head of Payments at Xfers. Our registered participants comprised students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in the prospects of the e-commerce industry, and what they can do to better stead themselves in entering and staying relevant as a player.

There are two ways to consider this: qualitatively and quantitatively. From a qualitative point of view, running smooth operations is vital. Fulfilling customer needs and ensuring smooth payments are crucial in encouraging consumers to make further purchases, thus establishing trust and loyalty. From a quantitative perspective, one can consider several brand metrics used: such as market share, sales volume, customer satisfaction. The repurchase rate is also critical, because the real test lies in whether consumers come back to patronise your business for the second and third time. Finally, being able to positively impact communities through onboarding local businesses and merchants is a goal that many major players in the e-commerce sector aim to strive towards.

While Europe and the United States are more advanced in this aspect, panelists agree that there are ways in which e-commerce platforms can promote sustainability. For example, Zalora identifies and tags products that are made from sustainable materials, such as recycled fibre and organic cotton. E-commerce platforms can also consider promoting pre-loved goods, hence contributing to sustainable fashion. The complexity of promoting sustainability is acknowledged as there is a need for other stakeholders to play their part. However, it is important for e-commerce platforms to do their part within their own sphere of control so that fellow industry partners and consumers can be encouraged to support sustainability efforts.

The first greatest challenge would be to get people to know about your brand. Think about how you might promote your product or service to your family and friends! On this note, keeping the marketing funnel model in mind will be helpful – from interesting your customers, creating their desire for your product, inciting their desire to take action (i.e. to make a purchase), and to finally maintain their brand loyalty.  What’s critical about this process is making data-driven decisions when deciding on the steps you take along the journey.  

Another thing to reflect on is one’s marketing strategy. One should be open-minded about trying out different social media platforms in promotion efforts as they may vary in effectiveness and reach. It is also important to measure the performance of promotion efforts on the various social media platforms, so that e-commerce players can make data-driven decisions about their marketing strategy and investments. Social media influencers are also key opinion leaders (KOL) that e-commerce platforms may have to increasingly be open about working with.

However, choosing the right KOLs to endorse your goods and services is a strategic decision –consider which influencer is best able to personify the brand and make the product relatable to your target audience.

The e-commerce sector will increasingly employ different types of digital payments. Many players expect bank transfers, credit cards and digital wallets to grow in popularity amongst sellers – and even some consolidation within each mode of payment – but the dominance of one payment mode over the other may not be evident in Singapore’s near future.

E-commerce is also projected to continue to enjoy huge growth, with the number of active customers increasing by the folds. Logistics and supply chain have also undergone massive improvements, providing better delivery infrastructure and greater accessibility to different geographical locations. Importantly, this advancement has allowed for the delivery of life-saving medical supplies at a faster rate in times of need, thereby allowing e-commerce to give back to the community.

Adaptability, transparency and communication are key. These help to build camaraderie and allow workers to focus on what needs to be done. Employers should also prioritize the safety of their employees by being flexible with working arrangements and maintaining employees’ access to equipment they need to continue working away from their workspace.

It is also a prime opportunity for e-commerce businesses to consider how they can help the surrounding communities. For example, a commitment to customer welfare might inspire businesses to add free hand sanitiser to the delivery orders they receive. It is also important for businesses to consider how they can improve the shopping and delivery experiences for customers who may be unable to leave home or receive delivery from other companies.

Ask yourself – what is the value I can bring to anyone in the market? If you wish to beef up your portfolio or are having difficulties securing an internship, do speak to your career guidance counsellors in school about your options, or consider working as a freelancer and approach companies that you think might benefit from your skills and services. This entrepreneurial mindset will help you find opportunities to improve your skills before offering paid services. Skills such as data crunching, photography and digital marketing can be done remotely, and can be honed through various platforms should one be creative and resourceful in finding relevant opportunities. It is also a good time to think about the personal brand you want to build for yourself in the early stages of your career. 

Students hoping to gain a good head start in e-commerce should aim to strike a good balance between being creative and being good with data and numbers. There is no ‘right’ major for anyone who wishes to be involved in e-commerce, since people with diverse academic backgrounds can play a different role in e-commerce. Whenever possible, take up as many internships as you can and try out different departments to get a good sensing of what you like and are passionate about. We should, at least, find out what we don’t like doing!