IN today's constantly evolving business world, it is not enough for companies to simply hawk their products in a physical shop and hope that satisfied customers will spread the word.
Going digital to market products, increase brand visibility and engage consumers have become an essential part of doing business that often gets overlooked, says Paul Lim, founder and CEO of eComLog Network Solutions (eNS).
"Many SMEs are hampered by their lack of understanding of online technologies, their unfamiliarity with operating online businesses and the high cost of going online - especially in obtaining sufficient resources to set up and run e-commerce and fulfilment areas," he says.
Seeing this need in the market, eNS aims to fill the gap by providing SMEs with a low-cost, fully-integrated set of e-commerce and logistics solutions to help them leverage on technology and online tools, bringing their businesses to the next level.
"With eNS, solutions are conceptualised and designed with a low-cost, 'plug-and-play' concept that is modular and customisable. We believe our solutions can assist many SMEs to get into the e-commerce space in the shortest possible time," he adds.
"These solutions allow for lateral integration across online and offline channels, as well as vertically along the value-added cycle of online retail fully integrated with the logistics operations and last-mile distribution."
Mr Lim is no stranger to entrepreneurship, as he has been dabbling with business ventures since the early 1990s.
"I started eNS because I believe in something, and not so much for the money. My first business was an Internet e-mail service back in 1992 during the early dotcom era, which collapsed three years later when a bigger player came in. Entrepreneurship can be a painful affair, but to me it's fun," he says.
While his first few businesses failed to take off, it is passion and deep belief in meeting a need that kept him going.
Today, aside from eNS, Mr Lim is the CEO of Kwerkee.com, a venture acquired from luxury e-commerce company Reebonz, where he is currently an adviser to the CEO.Kwerkee.com is a website selling artistic and quirky designer items.
Mr Lim is also the founder of Supply Chain Asia, which brings logistics and supply chain professionals in Asia together to network and learn from one another.
As most of his formal work experience has been in the retail, logistics and supply chain industries, eNS was birthed from his extensive knowledge in the field.
This expertise in the supply chain industry sets eNS apart from other e-commerce solutions, ensuring that users are able to operate online businesses without having to worry about logistics and delivery issues.
"To me, e-commerce is not just about the applications and the Internet technology, but also about the logistics. It's not how well the site sells, it's how well you can fulfil orders. I wanted this chance to prove to those in the e-commerce business that if you understand the logistics and supply chain side, you can serve the community much better," Mr Lim explains.
Mr Lim says he intends to ride on the e-commerce wave that is sweeping Singapore and the rest of the world.
"Online shopping statistics show that Singapore's online commerce was S$3.5 billion in 2013, and is set to hit S$4.4 billion by 2015. Asia is poised to become one of the biggest e-commerce markets in the world," he points out.
He also observes a trend of rising rental prices and increased Internet access via mobile, offering compelling reasons for businesses to go online to keep pace with consumers.
"Setting up an online marketplace goes beyond just creating a shopping portal with a check-out counter and a payment gateway. Bringing the customer to shop online, being able to interact and reach out to potential customers through social media and understanding the unique offerings of digital marketing - these are areas that we hope to make easier for SMEs or merchants who work with us. Our objective is to help them convert their customers to buy online from them," says Mr Lim.
He adds that brick-and-mortar companies face the constant challenge of trying to attract thousands of potential consumers to their physical retail stores.
"On the other hand, the complexity of an online store is to pack and deliver that amount of products to individual customers instead," he notes.
eNS has leased warehousing space of 7,500 square feet at a logistics centre in Jurong designed to fully integrate the e-commerce store with its inventory and warehouse management system. The infrastructure enables the eNS logistics team to receive a pick list detailing the exact location of an item ordered and to pick and pack within 10 minutes of an order confirmation.
"Many merchants don't have a proper system to manage their inventory. When an order comes in, the merchant is often unable to find the product amid the thousands of other products around. Or worse, sometimes the old products sit right at the bottom and become obsolete because merchants keep taking the topmost products," says Mr Lim.
He gave the example of an organic food retailer that suffered from the exact problem.
"They used to stack their products on the floor and their products' (shelf life) sometimes expired before they got to them due to inefficient storage," he says.
"We helped them store their products properly in our warehouse and deliver to retailers and their own store when orders came in. It is now a much more organised process of retrieval and completely reduced wastage."
Need for speed
He predicts that in the next few years, e-commerce consumers will start demanding quicker delivery for their orders.
"Right now, consumers are willing to wait for more than a week for delivery, which I find ridiculously slow. Our ultimate target is to be able to fulfil an order within one to two hours upon confirmation," Mr Lim says.
However, one challenge he faces in growing his business that is similar to many other startups out there is getting the right talent.
"As an SME, it is hard to attract the best talent with limited finances and resources, but there are many younger people who are excited about e-commerce. We bring them in as interns and give them a lot of room to grow and learn. However, interns eventually leave after a few months, so talent management is quite a major challenge for us," he says.
Despite this, eNS has already successfully wooed several offline businesses to go online. The list includes Ducati Singapore, Mekhala, Blue Orange, Ashtrodite, PageONE and Metallurgy, among others.
As for what the future has in store for eNS, Mr Lim says they will continue to strive to achieve the same standards or better than other bigger players in the industry such as Singapore Post, whom he sees as targets.
Despite the competition, he believes that eNS has a role to play in the e-commerce business.
"When I see the competitive market, there is no dominant player yet as the market is still evolving. As long as it's evolving, I still have a space to play. Competition is inevitable, we just need to find a way to make it work," he concludes.