Start-up

Wooing the crowds back to Sim Lim

Mr Grosso (far left) and Mr Mulchandani, co-founders of Simlim.sg, a platform for buyers to check prices at Sim Lim Square and message the merchants before going to the shops to make their puchases.
Mr Grosso (left) and Mr Mulchandani, co-founders of Simlim.sg, a platform for buyers to check prices at Sim Lim Square and message the merchants before going to the shops to make their puchases.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Simlim.sg hopes to restore customers' faith with its online price comparisons

Sim Lim Square is home to a wealth of electronic gadgets, knowledgeable shopkeepers and cheap finds - sometimes even cheaper than what you can get online.

However, footfall to the six-storey mall has taken a hit in recent years, after a handful of rogue merchants made headlines in 2014 for their unscrupulous sales tactics.

A new platform, Simlim.sg, hopes to lure crowds back to the mall in Rochor Canal Road by introducing an online price comparison service, which will create transparency and let customers know what good deals are available. This is the first such platform for any shopping mall in Singapore.

Simlim.sg launched last month and drew about 10,000 visitors in the past week alone.

"The mall has a bad reputation, but a lot of the shops are run by honest people who have been coloured unfairly by the actions of a few unsavory characters," said co-founder Roger Mulchandani. "We believe our platform will build trust through its transparency, helping rebuild the mall's reputation."

Mr Mulchandani and fellow founder Michael Grosso, who were colleagues in an advertising agency, are both tech geeks who love browsing the gadget-filled aisles of Sim Lim Square.

They came up with the idea of Simlim.sg last year, after Mr Grosso saw a group of students at the mall going through price lists manually and circling good buys.

"I realised that everyone, including me, was spending a lot of time and energy hunting for prices. At the same time, the very existence of price lists proved that merchants were eager to communicate their offers," he said. "Most retailers and shoppers own a computer or a smartphone, so I figured there must be a better way of connecting them."

Simlim.sg launched last month and drew about 10,000 visitors in the past week alone. One of those visitors was student and part-time salesman Bryan Leong, 17, who wanted to buy a wireless mouse.

"If you go to Sim Lim, you can get the product immediately. If you shop online, it will take a few days and the item may even get lost in the mail," he said. "If you go down to the store, you can also negotiate with the salesman - the mouse I wanted was $6.90 but, after a good conversation, I got it for $5."

Mr Mulchandani hopes that Simlim.sg will be able to attract people such as Bryan Leong to the offline retail experience.

He said: "When you buy something in a store, there is that human-to-human interaction and an immediacy which you just cannot get on e-commerce. It's this relationship that we are trying to improve and digitise, not just pricing."

He added that there are some things you can do only in person, such as bargain for the best deal possible, and that some items are cheaper in stores.

For example, a SanDisk 8GB Cruzer Blade Thumbdrive costs $4.50 at multiple Sim Lim stores, but it is $6.40 on Lazada. On Simlim.sg, you can also find an Asus GeForce GTX980 4GB GDDR5 Graphics Card for $480, much cheaper than Lazada's $583.80

Simlim.sg currently lists the prices of over 6,000 consumer electronic goods from 54 stores. The prices are updated every two weeks by the merchants themselves. There is an option for users to chat with a merchant, and leave feedback about a product or store.

The merchants are charged less than $100 a month to be listed on the platform.

Ms Kristy Song, founder of audio shop-cum-cafe Zeppelin & Co on the mall's second floor, said that Simlim.sg's rating system builds confidence in the mall.

"Customers can share their experiences, and retailers can't curate the reviews before they are put up, so it's coming from a neutral party," she said. "I think that this transparency is a huge step forward."

Mr Chamin Narasinghe, enterprise IT and marketing manager of Memory World, added that being able to engage with customers through the platform or face-to- face lets them provide better customer service. "If someone comes into the shop, we can give them advice to make sure that they're buying the best product for their needs, and not overspending," he said.

In future, Mr Grosso and Mr Mulchandani have plans to add Sim Lim's repair shops to the platform, as well as to offer logistic solutions so that people can get items on Simlim.sg delivered to them.

"If you think of Sim Lim Square as a whole, it's like a cave of wonders with thousands of hidden treasures just waiting to be found," said Mr Grosso. "Our goal is to bring out all this awesome tech in one place, for the benefit of all tech-lovers in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Wooing the crowds back to Sim Lim'. Print Edition | Subscribe