Like many retailers, Audio House was caught short by having to suddenly close its showroom as part of the current Circuit Breaker measures. Thankfully, the electronics retailer is an early adopter of digital transformation so customers are still able to shop virtually via its online platforms. Not only that, Audio House’s Managing Director, Alvin Lee, says the company has enhanced its omnichannel sales strategy by introducing an Online Concierge Service and training staff to improve customer service so shoppers don’t feel like they’re shopping alone in cyberspace during this brick-and-mortar retail shutdown period.
Prior to the current circuit breaker period, how active was Audio House with its online sales channel?
In November 2017, Audio House was the first to introduce the first cashless electronics retail channel in Singapore. Meaning that there are no cashier counters at the showroom. All our products are tagged to unique QR codes at the showroom. When customers are at the showroom, they can scan the QR codes of the certain product of interest, and make their purchases through their mobile phones or laptops at the showroom via the Audio House online platform. Although we know that customers still like to check out home appliances physically before their purchases, our implementation of this 100% cashless format was to educate our customers how to purchase online, so that they can purchase replacement items or their next items from any location. We also realised that even with our online implementation, most of our customers still prefer to shop at the showroom, as they would like to compare the quality of the various models and brands before they decide on their items to purchase.
With retail channel now shut till May, how quickly did Audio House have to pivot to going 100 percent online? What were some of the challenges you faced?
We had only four days notice from the announcement by until we shutdown our showroom on April 7. Our staff from sales front to office staff to management team, we all had to learn very quickly how to use online platforms to run internal meetings and how to handle customers on a one-to-one basis through virtual platforms. We had a crash course on how to use Zoom. Our cashless and online system introduced in 2017 definitely has helped us with a good head start on our existing already familiar with our online platcustomers, who are form. Our existing members are all able to purchase online without much issues. We had prepared for a backup plan in advance last month, in the case of a lockdown, we will launch our Audio House Online Concierge Service where our sales team will approach customers on a one-to-one basis through WhatsApp, Calls, or Emails, depending on customers’ preference. This online concierge service will allow us to serve our new customers who are unfamiliar with our platform, or those who are unfamiliar with e-commerce as a whole. The ability to guide them step-by-step gives customers the confidence that they are being served by a “person” , and not shopping “all-alone” in the online space.
How different is running an online channel from retail? And how did you overcome those differences?
Running an online channel for electronics retail is very challenging for sure. Customers who are used to comparing physical items and checking out features personally will now have to rely on online research and our concierge team’s description over the various platforms to envision what they are purchasing. One-to-one selling through our Online Concierge Service definitely helps with the selling process, as our sales staff can send over video descriptions, product manuals and more, to help customers to better understand the products that they are looking for. These live chats with customers also allows our customers to get the information that they want very quickly from our sales team, as if they are at our showroom. These services are personalised, and handled by dedicated sales personnels. We have also prepared online tutorial videos, to teach our new customers how to shop online on our platform to facilitate the process.
Has Audio House been able to tap into any of the Budget measures so far and how have the measures been useful to running your business online?
Yes, these measures are definitely useful for us, especially in cost savings and our staff’s confidence level. The Job Support Scheme gives us and our staff confidence that their livelihoods are still maintained throughout especially this month when they are unable to enter their usual workplace. Although going fully online will have an impact on their sales commission, their wages are not affected. This gives them the confidence to try out selling online without the worries of being impacted, and this allows them to venture into a new online space. Enhanced EDG helps to upgrade our digital technology and offerings.
What are some of the key takeaways you’ve learnt from transitioning to online and what is your advice for those who haven’t done it yet?
COVID-19 poses a challenge to a lot of our operations, but it also gives us the opportunity to venture into new ways of working and this may potentially transform the way we will work in the future, post-COVID-19.