Fuelling the growth of local SMEs: From going digital to going global with e-commerce

By Bernard Tay, Country Leader, Amazon.sg Seller Services and Head of Amazon Global Selling Southeast Asia

We are stepping into a tomorrow where we naturally turn to digital solutions and navigate options at our fingertips. From daily necessities like toilet paper to the latest phones, customers are becoming digital-first in their shopping journey, with buying things online becoming second nature to them. This presents huge opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to reach customers online, anytime and anywhere.

For local SMEs, the need to ride this wave of digitization and tap on the rapidly increasing base of online shoppers has never been greater. SMEs need to start now, start local and go global to develop a competitive edge for their business in the long-term.

Joining forces to support small businesses’ digital journey

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his 2021 Budget address shared the government’s vision to build an economically vibrant Singapore with unparalleled opportunities for businesses. At Amazon, supporting SMEs is a fundamental part of our work. We are very supportive of Singapore’s mission to be a global e-commerce hub and continue to work with government agencies and industry associations to help SMEs bolster their business strategies, capabilities to swiftly respond to changes, and talent to maximize opportunities in the digital environment.

To foster a nurturing environment for SMEs and equip them for local and global expansion, we are humbled to team up with Enterprise Singapore (ESG). Through the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) scheme, ESG will support eligible SMEs who wish to sell on Amazon stores abroad with a grant capped at S$100,000 per new country. This will include funding for up to 70% of eligible costs for overseas promotion, overseas business development, and overseas country set-up.

By collaborating with organizations in the private and public sector and leveraging our collective investments in technology, Singapore SMEs can be at the forefront of improving their product offering, enhancing their customers’ experience, and scaling their business across geographies.

Growing their business by going global

Even though travel is restricted due to the pandemic, products can still cross borders with e-commerce. With global e-commerce expected to reach US$18.89 trillion by 2027, there are ample growth opportunities for SMEs locally and overseas. At our recent Amazon Southeast Asia Online Seller Summit 2021, we hosted over 3,000 participants from Singapore. The overwhelming response demonstrates that business owners here are genuinely interested in tapping into the benefits of e-commerce to not only sell locally but also scale globally.

With Amazon, SMEs can easily reach a global audience with our 20 stores around the world, more than 150 million paid Prime members, and hundreds of millions of active customer accounts worldwide. Local business Rui Smiths is a model example. Since 2014, Debbie Cai, founder of Rui Smiths, grew her nail beauty brand on Amazon to serve customers across twelve countries – US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Australia, Netherlands, Singapore, and most recently, Sweden.

On top of the access to a global customer base, SMEs can enjoy cross-border shipping by relying on our existing logistics and infrastructure processes. With Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA), we pick, pack, and ship products on behalf of SMEs and take care of customer service and returns. As a result, SMEs can channel their time and resources to developing their products and customer base globally.

Building a competitive edge for the long run

The rapid and lasting adoption of e-commerce in Singapore and Southeast Asia is unearthing new pathways for SMEs to serve customers. While the e-commerce trend opens up more opportunities, it also demands that SMEs offer quality products, price them correctly, and ensure safe and timely delivery to fulfill their brand promise.

To stand out from competitors overseas, SMEs should prioritize skills to understand their customers and tailor their product offering online while ensuring that operational processes don’t hold them back. For instance, SMEs can introduce feedback channels to address consumer concerns promptly, anticipate their preferences, and offer personalized recommendations to encourage repeat sales. They can also save on operational costs by replacing their upfront capital expense by leveraging Amazon’s fulfillment centres. This allows SMEs to only pay for the storage space they use and the orders that Amazon fulfills, resulting in a lean and agile business model that is able to constantly adapt and stay ahead of competitors.

Small business owners, along with their employees, are strongly encouraged to join online courses to upskill their e-commerce knowledge and skills. There are many free tools available today, such as Amazon’s Seller University, that provide complimentary training for SMEs to overcome business challenges and stay abreast of the latest trends. When SMEs maximize the flexibility and resources to strategize how and where they want to fulfill their orders with Amazon, they are well-positioned to scale. Such capabilities and reach empower them to develop a unique selling proposition that can compete globally.

As Minister Heng stressed the importance of deep regional and international connections paired with a strong spirit of innovation in Budget 2021, let us ramp up our support measures to equip SMEs with the skillsets to start local and go global. SMEs that digitize and reach customers anywhere will not only enjoy greater customer reach and increased sales revenue but can also play a crucial role in propelling Singapore’s economic development.