Keeping retail alive via virtual showroom

mc.2 is no stranger to transformation – it has gone from selling IT products to becoming a smart blinds supplier. With the current Circuit Breaker measures, it had to double down on its digital efforts.

mc2 was established in 2004 as an information technology retailer but as the market became more crowded and less lucrative, it pivoted and reinvented itself into a smart blinds supplier. To cope with the sudden retail shutdown, the company finds itself embarking on yet another transformation phase as it takes potential customers on a virtual tour of its showroom, says founder and managing director, Wilson Chew.

Prior to the current circuit breaker period, how active was mc.2 with its online sales channel?
mc.2 functions mainly based on retail demonstration, as we provide motorised blinds, curtains and non-motorised blinds. Customers prefer to physically visit the showroom to experience the blinds, and have a touch and feel of the fabrics and patterns before purchase. We were very active in the digital space doing advertisements on Google, social media, and many more. These ads drew customers down to our showroom to shop. Our customers love their experience with us, and often rate us full stars for reviews.

With retail channel now shut till May, how quickly did mc.2 have to pivot to online completely?
We had to react very quickly. The very next day of the announcement, we had an emergency meeting to find ways to venture fully into the online space for selling and closing of sales. In fact, we had started preparing since after Chinese New Year, when the COVID-19 situation was starting to escalate. We did our first Facebook Live session on Feb 11, and started to gather our customers for virtual tours online instead of physically at the showroom. Now, our sales team are functioning from home, addressing customers’ queries one-on-one via Zoom calls, Google Hangout, Skype, FaceTime and more, and taking them through our product demonstrations through pre-recorded videos. It is challenging for us when we are unable to visit customers’ homes for the installation and troubleshooting this period, but we are also appreciative of our customers’ understanding. Many of them used to come down to the showroom to complete their payments before the showroom was closed for operations.

How different is running an online channel from retail? 
The inability to demonstrate our products, especially the motorised blinds, is definitely a big difference for us from retail to online. We have recorded product demonstration videos of the different products, so that when we are doing our video calls with our customers, we are still able to present them the product demonstrations virtually.

Has your company been able to tap into any of the Budget measures so far?
Yes, definitely helpful. We appreciate the rental rebate to help us through our showroom cost during this period, and that supports our business. We are also exploring the enhanced Enterprise Development Grant to help us with the telecommunications. And of course the Job Support Scheme helps us to keep our staff motivated in their jobs, even when their commissions will be affected during this period of time.

What are some of the key takeaways you've learnt from transitioning to online?
We are glad that we have always been open to exploring digital solutions. This keeps us in the mindset that it can be done, as long as we find a solution to move it online. When we finally beat this virus, consumer behaviour would change. I think small businesses need to embrace technology and make use of social media to do their marketing and sales if they have not already done so.