Data, dollars and deliveries

29 May, 2018

Leveraging on her experience in the brick-and-mortar world, Olive Tai’s unique combination of front and back-end e-commerce solutions provides much-needed help for online brands.

 

29 MAY 2018 – 05:50

 

E-COMMERCE marketplaces such as Lazada and Qoo10 have been touted as the next gold mine for retail brands, but often overlooked is the expertise needed to sell products on these platforms effectively.

 

And this is where e-commerce enablers beautiful.me and Synagie.com – software solutions that aid both front and back-end operations – come in.

 

Olive Tai, co-founder and managing director of both e-commerce enablers, said: “In the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) world, everybody is hungry for data, but if you go out and ask all the different marketplaces to provide the data – it is very difficult.”

 

She explained that while it is relatively easy to determine sales figures of products at a single online marketplace, difficulties arise when comparing across marketplaces, competitors and other products in the same online basket. “In the last couple of years, a lot of brand owners are living in the dark. They know about their market share in the offline channel, but they cannot find out where they stand in the online channel.”

 

Today, around 250 brands, carrying over 10,000 unique products from diapers to smartphones, are users of her e-commerce enablers. These include multinational corporations and brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Shiseido and Nestle, as well as other small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

 

With both e-enablers under the umbrella of a holding company named Synagie Corporation, its revenue has climbed from S$3.6 million in 2016 to S$8 million last year.

 

Creating the online store

 

Ms Tai, who is also the co-founder of Synagie Corporation, observed that brands were facing such challenges in the e-commerce space, based on her experience as a former trading director from health-and-beauty chain Watsons.

 

After a year of planning and examining existing online B2C (Business-to-Consumer) models in China such as Tmall, Ms Tai and her co-founder Clement Lee launched the beautiful.me website in 2015.

 

In essence, it functions like an “online Watsons store”, she said. Unlike marketplace models seen in Lazada or Qoo10, which make money off commissions of sales, the company buys products at a discount from various brand owners. The company then stores the products in a warehouse before they are sold and delivered to consumers.

 

Originally, the co-founders spent money to attract users to the website, but they soon found it was very costly to compete with the existing players.

 

Instead, they concentrated on turning beautiful.me into a storefront to the various e-commerce marketplaces, where users can buy the different branded products from respective beautiful.me shops. “If new sellers go onto beautiful.me, they would be able to leverage the traffic we already have in the marketplaces,” Ms Tai said.

 

On the choice of name, she chuckled: “Every woman wants to look beautiful… it’s easy to remember.” The co-founders initially wanted to focus on health and beauty products, and they had to pay a five-figure sum and submit a proposal to authorities in Montenegro, a small European country, to obtain the .me domain.

 

Back-end to support front-end

 

Currently, beautiful.me handles 800 to 1,000 orders per day on average, and it can surge to 3,000-5,000 orders per day for promotions such as 11/11 sales.

 

After linking beautiful.me to the different marketplaces, the company realised they had to create a back-end system that could integrate the marketplaces, inventory and fulfilment systems. She pointed out that retail brands also had trouble with pick-and-pack and delivery of small orders.

 

In 2016, Synagie.com was rolled out, a cloud-based tool that provides data analytics and automated inventory management.

 

Ms Tai explained that once a product is sold in a particular marketplace, the inventory will be duly updated and the information about the sale will be synchronised with the other platforms.

 

Synagie will also record the delivery timeframe and inform the third-party fulfilment partners. Additionally, Synagie analyses the data from the various marketplaces, which helps brands carry out bundles, premium giveaways, gift-with-purchase and other complex deals to entice consumers.

 

And this is why beautiful.me is necessary as the storefront feeds information about consumer behaviour directly to Synagie, such as consumers’ preferences for certain marketplaces or brands, Ms Tai pointed out.

 

She added that without beautiful.me as a “stepping stone”, it would take much longer for brands to grow their online sales.

 

Synagie is offered to brands that use beautiful.me at no added cost. But brands that do not wish to use beautiful.me can still use Synagie at a price determined by the number of monthly orders through the system.

 

Going abroad

 

One of the big breaks came when Lazada made the company an official partner in August 2016, which happened in the aftermath of Alibaba’s acquisition of Lazada. Such recognition paved the way for many brands, not just health and beauty ones, to use their e-enablers.

 

Chinese smartphone manufacturer OPPO, which is one of the newer users, said: “In the long run, they help to standardise complex procedures for all different online channels that significantly reduces our man-hours.”

 

Last year, the company moved into Malaysia, and it is looking to expand to three other countries – the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia – by the end of the year, said Ms Tai. To support this expansion, the company is looking for investment and talent to join their 70-plus staff.

 

Ms Tai said: “We have to be very fast already. Ever since Alibaba has become so active, everything has moved so fast. If I don’t come in now, sooner or later, they would have another e-enabler to come in to build their capabilities.”

 

Despite the founders’ lack of tech backgrounds, Ms Tai conveys to the tech team what exactly retail brands require based on her experience in the bricks-and-mortar business. “I will always think about what I can do in the past, and I hope I can bring this to the online world.”