Offline vs Online Retail: Here’s How These Singaporean Companies Struck a Balance to Benefit Consumers

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If your business doesn’t have a strong Internet presence, it’s going to be tough to compete in this digital world. In this day and age, being visible online has a big effect on a company’s ability to attract customers.

But saying companies should “go digital” is like telling people to “upgrade their skills” or “lead a healthy lifestyle”. Easy to say, but daunting when not broken down into actionable steps and without knowing how to deal with the challenges you’ll face along the way.

Often times, it’s easier to learn from others’ experiences, and we speak to a few companies who have embarked on this journey to hear what their experience was like and some of the key takeaways from the whole endeavour.


When traditionally-offline businesses move online

Businesses that inhabit traditionally offline spheres can find carving out a space in cyberspace daunting. After all, that’s the domain of tech startups and e-stores that were already built from the beginning right?

The truth is, the transition from offline to online is doable for even the most old-school of businesses and can, when done right, yield great rewards.

That’s what Fu Wah Department Store learnt when they started selling products online. The suburban department store in Bedok retailing haircare, fragrance and healthcare products, amongst others, has been operating for over 30 years. They now also sell their products online on the 99% SME platform.

Starting to sell online was challenging at first. Delivering to online customers was one of the biggest obstacles they faced. They originally delivered their products by regular post, but found themselves having to frequently deal with complaints about lost packages. Eventually, they learnt the hard way that it was better to deliver by registered post despite the higher cost.

But selling online has also unlocked new opportunities for Fu Wah. Their client base is no longer limited to shoppers in the Bedok area. Customers all over the island, some as far as Jurong East, have been purchasing their products online. There has also been increased traffic at their brick-and-mortar store, with some online customers visiting in person to see what else is on offer.

Selling online has also enabled them to send free samples with customers’ orders, which offers exposure to other products in their range.

Nam Shiang & Co is another business you wouldn’t expect to see online. The wholesale supplier of household products and homeware sells their goods to supermarkets, department stores and other retailers in Singapore.

It was the pressure of increasing competition that pushed them to build an online presence in order to generate greater brand awareness in an increasingly crowded market.

This was challenging at the start, as they lacked knowledge of how to establish a successful online business. SEO, digital marketing and online orders were alien concepts to staff who were more comfortable dispatching orders from warehouses, and they had doubts as to whether their IT hardware and software would be able to cope with the increased digital demands.

They took a step-by-step approach, beginning with designing a corporate website and preparing product descriptions and images, and later collaborating with e-marketplaces like 99% SME to sell products on their platforms.

The effort paid off, as having an online sales channel has boosted their sales revenue substantially and also created awareness amongst buyers from market segments and industries they did not previously serve.


Changing the landscape: How businesses are using offline retail as a space to supplement their online business

Deterred by the high cost of rent and overheads, some businesses are now choosing to operate online first, only creating an offline presence when they have gained enough traction.

That was homeware, furniture and lifestyle store SCENE SHANG’s approach. Their product range was very small at the start, so they decided that selling online would be the most cost-effective way to introduce the brand to the public.

Because they began with the goal of creating a memorable online presence, they were able to focus at an early stage on creating images and copy that would effectively convey their contemporary Asian design aesthetic. They also successfully harnessed newsletters, a loyalty programme and customised suggestions to drive repeat purchases.

As the business grew and their product range expanded, opportunities for selling in brick-and-mortar retail spaces came along, and they gradually began to build an offline presence, too. However, the online store continues to be the business’s core focus.

Having a strong online presence has paid great dividends for SCENE SHANG, as they have been able to sell to customers all over the globe. It has also enabled them to effectively deploy Facebook and Google ads to boost traffic and further catapult sales.

Customers can now make purchases online and opt for either home delivery or, if they are located in Singapore, in-store collection. Conversely, visitors to their physical store can now contemplate their choices before making their final purchase online. This flexibility has boosted their popularity with a sophisticated, tech-savvy clientele.


Building an online presence is now possible for every business

As is clear from speaking with the above three businesses, having an online presence helps, no matter how sophisticated or basic. While some businesses like SCENE SHANG have a very robust presence across multiple online platforms, taking baby steps to sell online, like Fu Wah and Nam Shiang have done, also has its benefits.

99% SME helps businesses get started with building an online presence, and also offers help with overcoming the challenges of going digital.

Click here to find out more about selling online with