Helping local SMEs access new overseas markets online

Over 500 firms have linked up with e-commerce platforms, thanks to Grow Digital initiative

A string of motherhood fair cancellations in recent months caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant a drastic drop in income for home-grown food seasoning brand Lilo.

Earnings from such events normally make up over 90 per cent of the takings for the company, which produces seasoning powders made with ingredients such as mushroom and ikan bilis.

The brand owes its survival to being able to reach out to new customer segments online, not just in Singapore, but also in regional countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Lilo accomplished this expansion by participating in the Grow Digital initiative, which allows small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to sell their products online to overseas markets, even without an in-market physical presence.

The joint initiative by Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority was officially launched yesterday.

It links up firms with pre-approved e-commerce platforms and digital solution partners which can maximise reach and networks across multiple countries.

SMEs that sign up to adopt eligible business-to-consumer (B2C) solution packages by Sept 30 can receive grant support of up to 90 per cent.

Providing an update on the initiative, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat shared in a webinar yesterday that over 500 SMEs have benefited from the programme, gaining access to overseas markets through digital means.

Using eyewear brand Nanyang Optical as an example, Mr Chee said it joined the initiative with plans to expand its e-commerce business to overseas markets, starting with Indonesia. This is after the firm decided it needed a stronger online presence to reach out to more customers during the circuit breaker period.

"I am pleased to share that the results have been encouraging for Nanyang Optical... This is an example of turning crisis into opportunity," said Mr Chee.

Speaking in the webinar attended by over 700 companies, he added that even though the past weekend created some optimism among businesses reopening in phase two, the battle against Covid-19 is not over.

Lilo founder Lily Loh and her daughter, whose eating habits inspired her to create her brand of food seasoning. Under the Grow Digital initiative, Ms Loh has been able to sell her products in the region. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LILY LOH

The ongoing pandemic means that businesses must adapt to new operational changes and consumer preferences, he said.

The Grow Digital initiative is one way that can help firms with enterprise transformation.

Mr Vikraman Ilango, founder of SELLinALL, one of the B2C platform partners featured in the programme, said during a panel discussion that he understands how daunting it can be for retailers to start something new, such as digitalising their business.

But his company is able to "hand-hold" SMEs taking the journey, he said.

"During the circuit breaker, when many offline businesses were forced to shut, e-commerce was the saving grace for many (other) businesses. There is no better time to jump on the digital bandwagon than now.

"It is possible for you to sell in all parts of the world. Your products can be available wherever customers shop," he added.

Ms Chew Mok Lee, Enterprise Singapore's assistant chief executive for infocomm media and digitalisation, said: "I urge SMEs to leverage Grow Digital to diversify their sources of revenue and seize new business opportunities beyond our shores."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2020, with the headline Helping local SMEs access new overseas markets online. Subscribe