Opening the curtains on new retail strategies

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact businesses, one important lesson is to adapt through quick thinking and workarounds. This has been experienced by mc.2, a brand with a strong reputation for its smart blinds and curtains in Singapore, which caters to both homeowners and business space owners alike. While their business and sales strategies were impacted by the onset of COVID-19, their swift exploration of online channels allowed them to stay afloat in the turbulent waters.

SMEhorizon speaks with Wilson Chew, Founder and Managing Director, mc.2, on the company’s retail strategies before the pandemic, their efforts to digitalise in response to COVID-19, and their newly launched digital platform where customers are able to complete their quotation, order, and arrange for installation completely online.

What were your retail strategies like before the pandemic?

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mc.2 believes in the retail experience. We launched the first smart fashion gallery in Singapore with 7,000sqft of space, showcasing a wide range of smart curtains, blinds, and outdoor products under one roof. Our customers were encouraged to visit the showroom physically to feel and touch the products before they make payment.

Before the pandemic, we used to organize frequent group buys among new home owners, where they would visit our showroom together for mass demonstration sessions. For each session, we had twenty to thirty families.

Were you already heavily dependent on online channels before COVID-19?

We were not dependent on online channels for sales, because in our trade, customers will prefer to check out the physical products, and have their queries addressed by our sales team before deciding on their purchases. Customers would usually visit our showroom at least 3-4 times before they make their purchases and this has been the buying process in this industry.

Your company has tried an impressive range of methods to digitalise since the start of the Circuit Breaker. Which have been the most successful? Are there any that have brought their own challenges?

Because of the COVID-19 situation, we had to close our retail store during the circuit breaker, and we couldn’t offer any installations to our customers. To keep our business active and to continue engaging our customers who need our products, we offered a wide variety of digital services including virtual consultations, Facebook live demonstration sessions, e-commerce platforms and invested heavily on digital marketing throughout this period.

There wasn’t one successful solution, but instead it was a combination of all these channels to make it a success. When we run our digital marketing, customers will see our ads. We have to follow up closely through virtual consultations and demonstrations, where they can “meet” our sales person one-to-one and have their queries addressed. With that, we could gain customers’ confidence, and they could reserve their installations in advance.

Through virtual consultation, customers can understand and take a look at our product specs, colours, sizes and so on. Our sales team will answer all the queries they have, as if they were at the showroom.

We realised that virtual consultations are very helpful, and we could actually continue this service even post-Circuit Breaker, where customers can understand the products and meet us virtually to have their queries addressed.

After that, they only need to come down to our showroom when they have confirmed their orders, to make the final purchase at the showroom instead of coming down multiple times like in the past, pre-COVID-19.

Even with all these digital measures in place, the percentage of online conversion is very low. The challenge we have is providing the “touch and feel” component. Customers are unable to see, touch and feel the actual product, the actual colour and texture etc., and many customers will still prefer to physically select their preferred fabric types.

Even until today, technology is still not able to solve this issue yet, so we’ll be carrying out the hybrid method until the next best solutions comes our way (virtual consultation plus physical showroom purchase). For customers who are comfortable to shop purely online, we have launched our e-commerce platform where they could get quotations directly, and arrange for their ZIPBlinds purchase fully digitally.

What encouraged you to develop your own digital platform?

In the past, we realised that customers were unable to get immediate quotations for their balconies online, because of the complexity of the calculations of the ZIPBlinds for the various balcony types.

We have always wanted to fill in this gap, as we believe there is a market for customers who want a quick solution for their balcony ZIPBlinds. These customers would already know what they want, either from referrals after checking out their friends’ or neighbours’ homes, or from their past visits to our showroom.

From our experience in this trade over the past years, we have collected a wide range of balcony types. We managed to create a model for our e-commerce platform for our customers to easily select from pre-uploaded balcony types and get immediate quotes where they can make their quick decisions.

We believe that as balcony ZIPBlinds become a norm for local homes with balconies, and with the credibility of our brand mc.2 in the industry, the demand for online purchases will increase with time.

How has the development process been? Are you working with any vendors or partners?

The development of the website was highly dependent on the experience and data that we have from our past installations and projects. We started developing this website after we have achieved a good number of projects, and with a strong calculation model to support the generation of immediate quotations.

With all the information above, the development process was very smooth. We worked with Craft Creative, our digital marketing partner.

Regarding your IT infrastructure, what cloud services do you use? How large is your IT team?

We outsource our IT/digital marketing to Craft Creative. They are using Skynet hosting services to host our e-commerce platform. Currently, their IT team has more than 10 personnel.