Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Aussie Pete Asking A Personal Favour - And An Unofficial Guide To Opening A New Business in Singapore

bou·tique /bo͞oˈtēk/
1. A small store selling fashionable clothes or accessories.
2. A business that serves a sophisticated or specialized clientele.

A Happy Customer is a returning Customer
NB: Dearest readers and friends - never in the many years that I have been blogging have I asked for your help on anything. Today, I have good reason to change this - for one time only. Please read the following article and then offer me the very personal favour of following, liking or visiting (or all three) of the links at the bottom! I implore you - I have never asked anything of you before, and I probably never will again.

For the longest time now – years in fact, Sammi has been talking about wanting to set up a business and an online shop. The idea was always to provide women’s clothing, lingerie and accessories that are all the rage in countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but have yet to hit the fashion scene in Singapore.

Her vision of such a ‘niche’ has been simmering, and eventually got to the point where we decided such an idea should finally become reality.

And so it came to pass…

Online shopping and even the old-fashioned ‘blog shop’ are abundant in Singapore – almost it would seem, to saturation point. So, just like opening any business, the first step was to come up with a robust business plan – what are the objectives, investment required, inventories, supply chains, even payment methodology etc. The most important thing in the front of Sammi’s mind was – “What will set me apart from the (fierce) competition.

Therein lies the opportunity…

After much research (yes, I’ve become like a personal consultant as well as web designer and all-round ‘gofer’), we discovered that there are a number of risks even for those running a simple blog shop. If the authorities ever decide to do a crack-down on the small operators, it will become apparent that most of them are operating without appropriate business registration or required permits.

So to mitigate this risk and to put some ‘substance’ behind what we are doing, we decided to register the business with ACRA (the ‘Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority’ of Singapore). Quite simple and cheap actually. So we are officially now partners in the registered business, “SG Alternative Shopping”.

Next – and there is a wealth of information available through ACRA and other advising departments – we wanted to make sure that any and all permits or licenses we required were attained. I won’t run you through everything, but there are requirements around customs (if you are importing or exporting) and requirements around location and operation of business (in our case, to operate as a ‘home office’), just as a couple of examples.

In the background, Sammi was madly working with wholesalers and manufacturers to come up with fashion items that may not be readily available in Singapore. She managed completely on her own, to source inventories and set up shipping and supply chains (incoming). She actually displayed some skills that I didn’t even know she had. The first items are now with us and up on the site for sale.

To this point, the investment had been – registration and license fees, inventory cost and shipping / logistics.

Also in the background, was the painstaking front of store and back end development. There are a number of open source solutions out there, but at the end of the day, you are only going to get the basics.

We extrapolated on this, and managed to integrate various modules and extensions (re-taught myself some long-lost java skills) and capitalized on (one of) the URL and hosting that I already had.

Now the site is live – I will probably one day give Sammi and invoice for my services (not really… unless I want to risk death).

Continuing on with the high expectations set on ourselves to ensure we were offering something quite unique to the competition, we decided to brand the store as a ‘boutique’ style and unique shop, with eyes on the latest in Japanese and Korean fashion.

The customer experience is also extremely critical, and in the case of SG Alternative Shopping, we are determined to make it another differentiator – as the adage goes: “a happy customer is a returning customer”.

Research shows that a very high percentage of the population (globally) are still not comfortable using the internet as a means to spending money. Whether they are concerned with supplying PII (personally identifiable information) across cyberspace or perhaps whether or not their credit card or payment details are safe and managed securely… guess what! – these concerns are actually completely very valid.

So, after even more research and advice (as well as some self-learnings), we have secured our site with the latest in SSL encryption protocol. This means that the site is certified, and any time a customer is logged in, or a user is providing information, the connection is secured and encrypted – nobody else can see any of the information.

Furthermore, we have very strict policies implemented to manage any information provided to the site or to us. Our privacy policy is very strict and very transparent.

Finally, when it comes to payment and shipping methods, we have found that a surprisingly large number of online businesses require pickup of items and cash on delivery only, or some significant courier costs if they choose to deliver.

In our case, we offer free shipping to all locations in Singapore – however we recommend that our customers take up a ‘registered mail’ option for a very small pass-through fee.

Payment can be made securely through all major credit cards, PayPal, bank transfer or as mentioned above, cash on delivery. For COD, central locations will be arranged with the customer for collection.

So there you have it – in short – the differentiators between Sammi’s business and the thousands of other online shops across Singapore, are:

1. Boutique Style – the latest Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese fashion items not often readily available in Singapore

2. Multiple Payment Options: Secure Credit Card, PayPal, COD, Bank Transfer

3. Free Shipping to Singapore Customers

4. Secure, encrypted shopping experience (SSL), with strict data policies surrounding how personal data will be used and managed

5. The highest level of customer service

SG Alternative Shopping officially opened on this past Sunday (15th July), and when I briefly posted a link on my Facebook Page, I received very warm encouragement from friends - both on FB and by email... even a couple of well known local celebrities wished us congratulations and all the best on the launch.

Although Sammi's ready to rock and she is available at times during the day for live interaction on the site (through site consultant live chat - watch for the green status) and inventory is on hand ready to go (apparel, lingerie, jewellery, etc), we are under no misconceptions that such a business will take time to build (although she - very excitedly - got her first order today.

I will continue to assist (although I won't be giving up my day job just yet :p), by helping with SEO and social media integration etc. Sammi has her own skillset with Chinese social media and networks such as Weibo.

So, why not offer some support for her to encourage such a bold undertaking - visit the site, interact with her through the site (and news articles), send emails, join the Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (although the accounts are brand spanking new, so don't be surprised if there are not too many 'followers' and 'likers' just yet... gotta start somewhere right?)

If you're a regular (or sometimes) reader of mine or one of my friends, please do me the personal favour and grace SG Alternative Shopping with your presence - in fact, you may just find that something unique for you or your partner or family member that you'd like to purchase!!

Click to visit SG Alternative Shopping Now!!

Click here to Like the SG Alternative Shopping Page on Facebook!

Click here to follow SG Alternative Shopping on Twitter

Thank you, dear friends and readers....!!

Fully Endorsed by Aussie Pete

Oh - I almost forgot - if you have your own website, or you are a blogger and would like the opportunity to earn some cash, you can join us as an Affiliate... simply sign up, copy and paste some code to link to the site or any individual item you'd like to advertise, and for every sale that comes from your blog or website, you will get paid 5% commission!! Examples of the affiliate code are scattered throughout this article where you see an image of one of the products - just click the link and you will see the tracking code (mine) in the URL Click here to sign up as an Affiliate now!!

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