Thriving in the pandemic

E-commerce boom a boon for online furniture shop

The Covid-19 crisis has taken a toll on many businesses but some Singapore firms continue to survive - and even thrive. In the first of a four-part series, The Straits Times looks at local enterprises that have seized opportunities to grow amid the economic downturn.

Mr Ryan Wong at BedandBasics' warehouse in Jurong East. The online furniture store grew amid the pandemic, with sales tripling in November last year compared with the same month in 2019.
Mr Ryan Wong at BedandBasics' warehouse in Jurong East. The online furniture store grew amid the pandemic, with sales tripling in November last year compared with the same month in 2019.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

There was a time when customers needed to sit on a sofa and check how comfy it was before buying, but the pandemic has made people far more comfortable with shopping for furniture online.

Entrepreneur Ryan Wong, 35, says this is one reason why online furniture store BedandBasics has grown during the crisis, with sales tripling in November last year compared with the same month in 2019.

It is not alone in its growth.

Sales of furniture and household equipment in Singapore rose by 28.5 per cent in November over the same month in 2019, according to Department of Statistics data, with digital takings accounting for 28.7 per cent of that.

BedandBasics catered to higher demand by hiring 10 additional staff in roles such as warehousing, administration and marketing last year. It plans to recruit another five to eight staff in similar roles this year.

Before co-founding the firm in 2017, Mr Wong was a management consultant who noticed e-commerce was rapidly gaining traction as people started to shop more on platforms such as Shopee and Lazada. He then started BedandBasics with Mr Mok Wai Mun, 36, who used to be in the video games retail industry.

The start-up now has around 50 staff and a team of 10 designers in Japan, where it also sells products under a different brand.

Its furniture - which includes sofas, bed frames and dining tables - is designed in Japan and made in various countries in Asia. It also sells mattresses.

The furniture is priced lower than products of designer brands as the firm enjoys cost savings from economies of scale and operating online, said Mr Wong. "We get the items directly from the factory, instead of going through a local distributor, so there is also more room for price negotiation."

Going digital from the start paid off for BedandBasics, especially when the pandemic broke out, said Mr Wong. "Most of our technology and infrastructure are in the cloud, so we could start working from home almost immediately."

Some of BedandBasics' staff have now returned to work at its headquarters in Hillview Avenue. The company also has a warehouse of about 40,000 sq ft in Jurong East.

Covid-19 has created new opportunities for the store - the number of shoppers aged 40 and above grew by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels. "Normally, most of our customers are young families and professionals," said Mr Wong.

But BedandBasics has also had its share of challenges during the crisis. Costs rose due to a shortage of materials and disruption of production lines amid lockdowns.

When the co-founders started out, it was also not easy convincing factories to work with them as they did not have sufficient orders. They initially sourced items from local distributors, building trust by helping them digitalise through online catalogues.

"When we started, we were more like a furniture marketplace but now we have our own house brands," said Mr Wong.

Despite its wins over the past year, the firm is not losing sight of the competition. "The industry is getting more saturated as e-commerce platforms enable more people to sell products online," he said.

It helps that the firm has exclusive designs and a dedicated customer service team, which smaller merchants might lack, he added.

It is also focusing heavily on data analytics so it can get insights into consumer preferences, as well as artificial intelligence software to increase warehouse efficiency.

Mr Wong said: "Covid has been a big catalyst for a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour. Customers now realise that shopping online is a lot more convenient."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2021, with the headline 'E-commerce boom a boon for online furniture shop'. Subscribe