Adrian Ho was inspired to trade in luxury watches due to his 18 year passion for collecting vintage timepieces. Like many other retailers, his efforts are helped by global ecommerce platforms that create export opportunities for micro, small and medium Enterprises (MSMEs): eBay, in his case.
SMEhorizon speaks with Ho about his journey into the global marketplace, the challenges he has faced, and the insights he has gained. Vidmay Naini, General Manager, eBay’s Global Emerging Markets also shares on how these platforms can help MSME reach wider audiences outside their country and region.
Developing entrepreneurial potential
Ho was already leveraging the potential of eCommerce before signing on with eBay, operating online and without a physical store. “When I first started, my clientele primarily consisted of collectors interested in vintage watches with a lower price range,” he recalls.
“Over the years, I have expanded my offerings to include watches with greater collectible value. This expansion has attracted a more diverse range of customers seeking luxury timepieces.”
The entrepreneurial spirit Ho has is one that is strong in the region. Naini observes that Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia “enjoy logistical advantages, diverse talent pools, strong economic sectors, and a wealth of unique inventory.
“Furthermore, a vast pool of young, technologically savvy business owners and their strong entrepreneurial sense ensure a highly competitive economic environment in Southeast Asia (SEA), making ecommerce not just a consumer phenomenon but a key business strategy for MSMEs.”
Yet despite this potential, many traditional business communities remain underrepresented in exports. Naini shares that the products these communities offer carry include “trading cards, Heavy Equipment, vintage and new watches and automobile parts.”
“With these exports, sellers are able to offer their customers from all over the world a wider range of options when it comes to finding items from categories that could otherwise be niche or inaccessible in their own countries,” he adds.
On the other hand, he continues, “Our recent study “Southeast Asia Small Online Business Trade Report” showed important global markets such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and United Kingdom, and are in the Top 10 export markets for Singapore’s eBay-enabled small businesses, yet they are currently underrepresented in traditional businesses’ exports.
“In fact, many traditional businesses are exporting to markets closer in the region and are not tapping on the potential of Western markets such as those on eBay.”
Ecommerce platforms expanding MSME reach
Seeing the potential to showcase his collection to a larger audience and expand his business, Ho chose eBay based on its reach and reputation. He is not alone. Naini notes that “For MSMEs, global ecommerce platforms reduce the barriers to entry and increase reach and scale at a lower cost. This makes it easier for small enterprises to grow quickly and budding entrepreneurs to kickstart their own businesses.
“SEA businesses on eBay have already been tapping into this opportunity to access a global marketplace of 132 million active buyers across 190 markets,” he adds.
Challenges do remain. Ho recalls facing shipping logistics and customs regulations. Working with an e-Commerce platform has allowed him the tools and resources to simply shipping processes and access international shipping options to simply the obstacles.
“Additionally, eBay’s global platform and customer base have facilitated my business’s expansion into overseas markets,” he continues.
Naini agrees that the challenge of logistics and promoting their products when expanding their customer reach. “Logistical and supply chain challenges were common at the height of the pandemic, with global economic activities taking a hit,” he explains. “Cross-border trade was affected by lockdowns, and resourcing became highly prized and expensive. With or without the pandemic, a digital supply chain remains crucial as it assists with streamlining operations for businesses to achieve efficiency at a lower cost.”
“Digitalisation, in fact, supports cross border trade, as businesses are not restricted by or subjected entirely to the economic situations of their home countries, since they can reach customers in countries with higher penetrations of ecommerce.”
Other challenges that MSMEs face have to do with manpower and increasing costs. “Without digitisation, manpower would pose a challenge for businesses looking to set up shop abroad, as they would need to channel more time and money to establish physical presence in new markets.
“Digitalisation enables businesses to establish their presence in new markets without these difficulties. With ecommerce platforms like eBay, this can be all done on one platform.”
Keeping up with the times
The importance of digitalisation is clear to both Ho and Naini. Ho shares that from his journey, he understands how selling on marketplaces like eBay can be beneficial for expansion. “They provide access to a global customer base and offer support for international transactions. Building a strong online presence, reputation, and customer trust are key factors for success in expanding internationally,” he says.
Naini agrees: “Ultimately, MSMEs looking to expand their businesses into wider markets must embrace digitisation and the powers of ecommerce – a modern channel for anyone to easily access the export economy. With digital tools, small businesses can grow faster, and new entrepreneurs can start their own businesses. While the journey to initially put digitisation in place for a business can be challenging and unfamiliar, it primes the entrepreneur for success by arming them with a strong suite of tools.
“Businesses are not alone in their exporting journey and can unlock great potential when they get in touch with global partners. eBay and other players in the ecommerce ecosystem of their respective countries are partners that can help these businesses level up.”
Yet beyond the tools, fundamentals remain key. Naini advises that “MSMEs should be familiar with the markets they intend to reach out to, understanding the shifts in the consumer behaviour of their prospective audience. Knowing the opportunities and challenges in each market can help business owners to tweak their strategies accordingly. By understanding the right trends, businesses are equipped to provide their audience timely and relevant offerings.”
Ho underscores this need for market research: “Understand the target markets, including local demand and competition.” The combination of acumen and leveraging tools and partnerships is key for MSMEs, an integral part in our economy, to push further.