Keeping an open mind to opportunities online

Going online is not easy but necessary in these times, says Joel Lim, managing director of water purifier company, Ruhens Singapore.

Prior to the current circuit breaker period, how active was Ruhens with its online sales channel?
Before this, we have mostly done their sales through our physical showroom where customers can drop by and have the salesperson explain and demonstrate to them how the water purifiers work. We have always encouraged customers to physically check out the water purifiers so that they can see the premium body, touch and feel the functions, as well as taste the five different water temperatures for our premium model Ruhens V. When this COVID-19 situation escalated in January, we had quickly arranged for mobile showroom demonstrations as an option for our customers who prefer private sessions instead of at the showroom. We have a mobile showroom that displays our full series of Ruhens water purifiers, where customers can also touch, feel, and try out the water dispensed from our various purifiers. Our customers can book their slots in advance, and we will bring the mobile showroom to their designated locations to demonstrate how the products work. Prior to COVID-19, we haven’t been selling online, but we have been trying out Facebook Live sessions since January 2020 as a demonstration platform for customers to view, participate, and ask us questions about our products.

With retail channel now shut till May, how quickly did your company have to pivot to online and what were some of the challenges you faced?
Upon the announcement by PM Lee about the suspension of non-essential business activities, we had to react immediately. We had meetings and followed the news very closely to ensure that we’re able to still provide our service to our customers. We arranged to film product demonstration videos in the short span of two days over the weekend, so that we can still proceed with our product demonstrations via these videos when we handle our customer queries online. Our sales team had to also quickly learn how to use online platforms such as Google Hangout, Zoom and more to do one-on-one demonstration to their customers. The main challenge was the time frame, as we had to act and decide very fast to plan ahead for our activities in the coming month. In order to continue our business activities, we have to be ready for online retail.

How different is running an online channel from retail? And how did you overcome those differences?
We had always been doing face-to-face demonstrations with our customers, be it in the retail store or the mobile showroom. These demonstrations are important for us, as customers will be able to feel the quality of our products, and try out the different tastes and functions. If we go fully online, we will not be able to let customers check out the products personally, nor taste the water temperatures dispensed. To overcome this, we’ve filmed detailed product demonstrations so that we can show customers how the products work. For customers who really want to try the water, we’ll also arrange for logistics service to send fresh water to their homes for them to try. 

Has Ruhens been able to tap into any of the Budget measures so far? 
Yes, thankfully with the rental rebate, it takes our mind off our retail showroom, and allows us to focus our efforts on our online platform. Also, with the Job Support Scheme, we’re also able to better manage our employees’ expectations and confidence of their livelihood despite the uncertainties that online retail bring.

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?
Going online is not easy, but at moments like these, it is necessary. Ultimately, we have to keep an open mind to the myriad opportunities and options available online.