Growing customer relationships via social commerce

Photo by Mark Stebnicki

Established 20 years ago, ZENXIN Organic runs an extensive organic network across Southeast Asia, from organic processing facilities to organic farms and growers. Through its stores and partnered supermarkets, ZENXIN sells domestic and imported organic food in Singapore and Malaysia, and even further in the region, including Hong Kong and, more recently, Nanning, China.

Despite their established network, bringing their customers the fresh and organic produce needed to keep them healthy during the pandemic was a challenge. At the same time, it meant greater competition from more entrants into the e-commerce industry. Working with SleekFlow, the company was able to develop a structured social commerce strategy that has helped them meet these challenges, and grow their future ahead.

SMEhorizon speaks with Tai Seng Yee, Executive Director of ZENXIN Organic, on his company’s journey through the pandemic, and how social commerce has changed the way they interacted with customers. Henson Tsai, Founder & CEO of SleekFlow, also shares what ZENXIN’s experience reveals about the social commerce megatrend as a whole.

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How established is social commerce in the Singapore context?

Henson Tsai: Social commerce is an unstoppable megatrend. There is so much potential in Southeast Asia, including a country with high mobile and social media penetration like Singapore. People are spending more than 80% of their time on social platforms. It’s already a habit for us to discover products and even buy on social channels directly. The huge social commerce market potential is expected to rise to 3.37 trillion by 2028.

HT: The ongoing e-commerce trends have been supported and further boosted by the pandemic. In 2022, one in five dollars spent on online retail in Southeast Asia happens through social media. We expect a total of US$370 million worth of digital consumers in SEA by the end of this year, with an e-commerce GMV to reach US$280 billion by 2027, as proved in the latest SYNC Southeast Asia Report by Meta and Bain & Company.

HT: Social commerce has been navigating in parallel with e-commerce, and consumers’ preference for an interactive shopping experience is allowing social shopping to flourish. People are spending more time on social media and messaging platforms to discover and purchase products and services.

HT: Over 80% of discovery and evaluation still occur online, even during this endemic phase. This is why it is now essential for brands to curate a professional image on social media as part of creating an outstanding brand experience for consumers. I think that it is a megatrend that calls for a comprehensive, frictionless shopping journey on social channels.

Was ZENXIN already reaching customers via e-commerce before working with SleekFlow?

Tai Seng Yee: Yes. But it was only after we started using SleekFlow that we began to develop a more structured strategy with features such as the integration of our e-commerce store.

Were there any limitations or challenges that ZENXIN faced?

TSY: Definitely. When the pandemic put us in isolation, it was extremely difficult for us to interact with our customers face to face. We had to rely solely on online communications to explain more about our products. We used one phone for each store, and the store managers had to send out messages manually. Everything was time-consuming and lacked scalability, as we had to deal with hundreds of customers daily.

TSY: Besides, the e-commerce industry is getting crowded as the cost of setting up an e-commerce store is much lower than it used to be. Facing such cut-throat competition, standing out from the crowd is truly a challenging task.

HT: From the insights exchanged with our customers, we can tell that businesses are diving into a more consumer-centric perspective. According to a report, 63% of them in Southeast Asia have used business messaging in the past year. With consumers’ rising expectations and demand for instant gratification, curating a convenient and personalised experience has become a priority. This explains the significance of social media presence and the growing need for integrations, whether it is for CRM or online stores such as Shopify, WooCommerce, etc.

How has working with SleekFlow changed the way ZENXIN interacts with customers?

TSY:Social messaging is the most direct form of communication if we cannot do face-to-face communication with our customers. Hence, when we need to have conversations across various social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, a centralised platform is particularly helpful.

TSY:Apart from handling incoming messages, we use SleekFlow to send out transactional messages. The communication is now centralised, and store managers can skip the hassle of managing multiple conversations at one time.

TSY:By using SleekFlow for WhatsApp broadcasting, we have also enjoyed higher read rates of above 70%, as opposed to the usual 12-15% observed with traditional e-mail campaigns. We can also personalise our broadcast messages to make them more engaging. Names of customers can now be added into these messages, so that when they do receive the messages, they feel like they are talking to someone who knows them personally and thus would be more interested in replying – the average customer lifespan gets extended.

TSY: This has allowed for us to maintain customer loyalty more effectively to prolong the lifespan of our customer relationships and nurture new ones.

Are there any other aspects of your business you are planning to digitalise or develop?

TSY: Currently, we are looking forward to invest in CX, the enhancement of our digital e-commerce store, socials and WhatsApp CTAs, and VOIP cloud services. We’re hoping to merge offline and online channels in one to enable a seamless end-to-end customer journey and, at the same time, leverage the power of the direct-to-consumer business models through these technological innovations.

TSY: We plan to grow the top funnel acquisition using marketing automation in-chat to optimise sales funnel conversions. As we have an extensive amount of customer data, VOIP cloud services will also be very useful as they allow customers to connect with ZENXIN easily via calls depending on the call origin.

What are the common pain points for small businesses looking to enter into social commerce, and what technology is available to help them?

HT: One of the most common pain points is exploring social commerce on a tight budget. Using a minimum cost and giving up the moment one experiences failure is not uncommon. I think this is a pity because it often takes some trial and error to acquire the best possible result suitable for each business model. Personally, I believe that a product continues to evolve, as there will always be room for improvement.

HT: Other than that, since it takes a bit more time for small businesses to establish trust with a larger pool of customers, they should take full advantage of social media. Research shows that it is easier for small to medium businesses to get discovered and receive orders from social media, especially if they are just starting out.

HT: This can be seen in Singapore, with the success of home-based bakeries during the COVID-19 lockdown. It is free and easily accessible, so brands should certainly take some time to study it and put it to good use.

What advice do you have for SMEs who are looking to venture into social commerce?

HT: Launch fast, test the market and tweak accordingly. We live in a fast-paced world where companies need to be on their toes and adapt to changes. Don’t be afraid to try new methods or technological innovations to ease the process. It is most often beneficial to invest in tools and allocate some budget for leveraging resources.

TSY: I think the willingness to invest in technological innovations is really important. With strategic planning, the ROI generated from tactical sales and marketing efforts and efficient manpower allocation are bound to show satisfying results.