When all non-essential businesses were shuttered in April to contain the spread of Covid-19, many small business owners found themselves in a mad scramble to build out online sales channels.
Mr Alvin Tan, managing director of The Mind Cafe, found himself on a do-or-die mission to digitalise as sales at his board games cafe fell to zero during the circuit breaker.
He recalls: “We did not know when the lockdown would end and we did not have any online retail experience. But we stayed focused, and decided to sell card and board games online.”
Fast forward five months and The Mind Cafe’s channel expansion has turned out to be so successful that walk-ins at its Prinsep Street venue in September are up 20 per cent from the same period a year earlier.
Mr Tan says: “Shopee was a great platform, we listened to their guidance and took the steps they suggested to achieve the online revenue. Visa’s Where You Shop Matters campaign is also helping our company tremendously. Not only did it boost our online sales, the exposure it’s given our brand is really significant.”
The Where You Shop Matters (WYSM) campaign is an initiative launched by digital payments leader Visa in August to help local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) bounce back from the Covid-19-induced slowdown.
Support comes on two fronts: To spur SMEs to go digital, Visa has designed an e-commerce starter kit to help SMEs create and manage their online storefronts; to connect SMEs to more shoppers, Visa and Shopee have also joined hands to promote local merchants and incentivise Singaporeans to shop local.
Mr Tan says: “We have people who got to know us for the first time via the Visa campaign. We also saw more suppliers and games publishers approaching us to work with them.”
Other retailers have found new audiences through the WYSM campaign as well. Mr Victor Koh, founder of Ette Tea Company, notes that traffic to his website has surged by 250 per cent month-on-month, driving an increase in sales.
“We are getting more calls and enquiries… We are extremely grateful for the support from Visa and from Singaporeans that have come forward to shop local during these difficult times.
“Many friends, family and army mates have called and texted me to say that they have seen me featured on the Internet. The awareness that has been created is tremendous, not only for us, but for the entire Singapore small business community,” he adds.
Making a positive impact
SMEs employ 65 per cent of Singapore’s workforce and contribute nearly half of its GDP. Indeed, small businesses are the heart and soul of the community, says Mr Kunal Chatterjee, Visa country manager for Singapore and Brunei.
That is why Visa has made a commitment to support 10 million small and micro businesses in Asia Pacific, and the WYSM initiative is part of this effort.
Mr Chatterjee explains: “We recognised that local consumers have the power to positively impact their community through the value of their dollar and wanted to use our network to raise awareness on this issue to support the local business recovery.
“In our recent insights paper that was produced in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board, we found that local brands in Singapore have been worst affected by the pandemic, experiencing double-digit negative growth… In these difficult times, every dollar you spend to support a local small business helps them to survive, thrive and grow, allowing them to continue providing us with products and experiences that enhance our lives,” he adds.
When consumers choose to back small businesses, they also participate in a “virtuous cycle” that benefits the wider community, Mr Chatterjee notes.
And he’s not just talking about job creation.
“Many SMEs that have managed to survive in the wake of the pandemic have also taken it upon themselves to give back to the community — from hawkers preparing and donating free meals to frontline healthcare staff, to retailers donating sales proceeds to Covid-19 relief efforts. Without the support of local shoppers, these small businesses would not have the capacity to do so,” he says.