How has Covid-19 changed business-as-usual? We speak to entrepreneurs from fashion and automobile e-commerce, as well as an expert in technology.
Have you seen increased traffic and has it translated into sales?
We’ve seen a different mix of traffic. Categories such as pre-loved have grown, presumably as buyers hunt for value, and also athletic and lounge wear as people work from home. Shoes and workwear have decreased understandably as people work from home.
BlinQ is operating in multiple markets. Have the various lockdown measures complicated your operation?
In some instances, yes. The supply chain from our Italian brands and some European distribution centres has been disrupted, however, we quickly shifted to distribution centres elsewhere such as Canada and Hong Kong. Overall, the supply chain is moving again, albeit with some logistical delays.
What supply chain and logistics issues have you encountered?
Initially we experienced major disruption, especially as distribution centre workers globally had stalled, however, we have seen a pick-up here, and as mentioned above, we had to tweak supply chain origins. Our own warehouses, however, have not seen any interruption whatsoever, although last-mile fulfilment is still slightly delayed.
How’s the morale of your staff?
Thankfully we’re still intact and pushing as much as possible considering the market sentiment. We have to adapt as does everyone else. We are watching our cost base very closely, and focusing on customer experience. One thing we are working on right now is a CSR programme to deliver BlinQ packages to frontline hospital workers to hopefully lift their spirits too. We are all in this together, and we’re putting our money where our mouth is to ensure we can also give back in these challenging times. This is a big morale booster to everyone.
What lessons have you learned during these times?
I’ve been through numerous downturns throughout my entrepreneurial journey, and this is probably the most challenging. We have to manage our cost and increase the runway as much as possible to see us through. Hope is not a strategy. We need to simulate numerous scenarios and act decisively and swiftly to stay afloat. Don’t try to be a hero. This is survival of the fittest.
How will you improve the business after the pandemic?
I think e-commerce and perhaps luxury will change forever as a result of this pandemic. Consumer buying behaviour has also shifted to our advantage. We were one of the earliest innovators of AR (augmented reality) in this field, allowing for users to try on outfits virtually on their mobile devices, and also for non-digital brands to create an e-commerce presence in minutes, crucial ingredients in today’s situation.
If anything, I personally think it may take a while before sentiment returns and luxury becomes a necessity again. That said, we need to be prepared. We need to do more to lead innovation, we need to really shout about what we believe in, and we need to ensure we can put the customer at the centre of our universe.
As a tech company, we need to ensure we don’t “grow at all cost” and be prepared for future shocks. Thankfully, we have always been lean and hungry – a mantra I’ve lived by. For now, we just need to survive.
Do you think this pandemic and the lockdown imposed have accelerated the adoption of working from home?
Life definitely isn’t the same during this Covid-19 pandemic and will not be the same after it. Remote working will become more predominant and will reshape many industries to adopt it as a norm. I believe that in the next 12-18 months, we will see more companies set up more remote working strategies to transition away from the big offices we all are used to. Tip: Buy yourself a comfortable and ergonomic “work chair” for your home.
Moving forward, what do you think will be the implication on technology, not only productivity but also consumption?
Online content consumption has already increased drastically, we even see it now where Netflix has to throttle and limit high-res streaming due to more people watching their favourite shows online. This is because social interaction is so limited that we require other avenues to unbridle ourselves. The implication on technology would be a greater push for adoption for the public to move more things that are traditionally done to go online. I foresee that online banking would be the new norm and online payments would not be second to our “cash is king” mentality. Productivity is tricky because self-governance really relies on individuals themselves on how their time is managed – whether to spend it binging on Netflix or learning a new skill, that choice is ours.
Will the utilisation of big data include combating diseases in future?
We see this every day already, near real-time Covid-19 trackers that continuously pull data from sources around the world are helping healthcare workers and scientists aggregate and synthesize incident data on a global basis. This allows policy makers to move quickly to predict the trend of where Covid-19 is moving and take measures on what needs to be done next in their local regions. Big data utilisation will also pave the way in drastically reducing curation timelines. Solutions can be created more efficiently with the help of ML (machine learning) and AI (artificial intelligence) which detect patterns and better help scientists understand diseases.
Advice on safeguarding privacy and staying secure while working from home?
Use an incognito browser if you’re performing online banking or purchasing something online. Make sure all your passwords are different. Try not to share personal details online.
Might be a good time to rethink about your home Wi-Fi:
- Change the default name of your home Wi-Fi.
- Make your wireless network password unique and strong – at least 16 variable characters.
- Enable Wi-Fi network encryption.
Carsome is very much digitalised but still has an on-ground presence with inspection centres. How has the MCO affected both sides of the business?
We are seeing signs of pent-up demand on both the supply and demand sides. Sellers are looking to offload cars for cash, while dealers are looking to stock up after a prolonged lockdown. Unfortunately, due to the lockdown situation we are not able to carry out the physical inspections. We are actively looking at ways on further digitalising our offline processes to ensure that our business model will be pandemic-proof, including inspections and transactions
You also operate across multiple markets. How have the various measures in different countries affected your operation?
Currently, all existing markets that we operate are under varying degrees of lockdown. But we are seeing positive signs of market reopening due to the swift measures. For example, in Malaysia new cases are at low double digits and the authorities are already preparing for a lockdown exit strategy. Similarly, Thailand is also controlling the situation well. As for Indonesia, we are waiting for further clarity from the authorities before deciding our next action.
How’s the morale of your staff?
We continue to keep close tabs on our employees, including daily check-ins, regular communications and town hall sessions, as well as some group fitness activities. We are also taking this opportunity to upskill our employees through training to keep them sharp and alert. So far, they remain in high spirits and eager to get back to work.
What lessons have you learned during these times?
I think the biggest lesson is to make sure our business model can be pandemic-proof, and to always ensure sufficient cash flow to tide through any prolonged crisis. I’m also extremely grateful to have a strong support from the leadership team, who have been putting in extra hours to ensure the sustainability of our business and the wellbeing of our employees.
How will your business change after the pandemic?
Our core business will remain the same, albeit with some changes in how we serve both the sellers and buyers through implementation of preventive and hygiene measures. Beyond that, we are actively sourcing for any expansion opportunities that may present across the value chain.