Internationalization in the digital wave [By Seema]

While Singapore has become a hub for international players to park their regional headquarters in South East Asia, many local SMEs owners are struggling with the rising operating costs within the island city to move forward with their global ambitions. The digital wave has helped many businesses around the world take the first step towards globalizing their business, but Singapore is lagging behind. Total online sales in the country account for a mere 4 to 5% of retail sales whereas in China or the US, online sales have reached double digits. Time, investments and manpower required are three main contributing factors that are keeping many SMEs on hold for the time being.

When small businesses are consumed with fighting fires on a daily basis, it becomes difficult to review long-term growth plans to stay above the curve. The ecommerce revolution is no exception. While the government plans to take larger steps in providing a more integrated system to expand market opportunities to neighbouring countries for SMEs, this may take some time before it becomes fully functional and is open to the public. Until then, businesses must start thinking how they can improve their digital outreach to local and foreign consumers.

Too often, organizations pour their resources into an ineffective website that is not properly integrated into their long term strategy. To get started, businesses must define what their primary business goal is and create an ecommerce platform to support it. For example, if the objective is to bring a product into a new market, ensure your website is properly designed to cater to the local people, with a strong back-end to support overseas purchases and shipments. If you already have an ecommerce platform in place, take a step back to analyse any areas for improvement. Upgrades to an ecommerce platform do not have to be big and expensive. Changes may be as simple as adding in a new feature.

A good example of a local success story in ecommerce is RedMart. It is an online platform for Singaporeans and other regional buyers to purchase their groceries and have them conveniently delivered to their doorsteps. The company has grown its success by tapping into the growing number of internet users and continuously integrating ecommerce trends into its business strategy. As the number of smartphone users continues to increase, the company launched an app to cater to a population of mobile shoppers. RedMart has moulded its business model around a tech-savvy pool of customers, with plans to further expand its outreach abroad.

Remember, there is no distance online. Global consumers are able to purchase goods from around the world within a few clicks. Singaporean SMEs must take concrete steps to stay relevant and competitive in the new digital era. As consumer demands and expectations are shifting, the only way to stay alive is to make that shift as well.

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