2 years of Covid-19

'Covid-19 is a blessing in disguise': Coffee powder stall owners explored online platforms

Mr Marcus Tay and his wife Amirah Yusoff are the third-generation owners of Yong Seng Coffee Powder at Tiong Bahru Market. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Mr Marcus Tay, 30, and his wife, Ms Amirah Yusoff, 27, are third-generation owners of Yong Seng Coffee Powder, a stall selling coffee powder and beans in Tiong Bahru Market.

Marcus Tay: When the circuit breaker started in April 2020, the market was dead quiet. There were only one or two entrances that patrons could use. Unfortunately, the entrance nearest to our stall was sealed up.

The usual queues before our stall at the weekends were nowhere to be seen. We could chat idly with our neighbours. In an hour, we would get only one or two customers. It was unheard of.

Everyone stayed home and there was a big drop in footfall. As the pandemic escalated, more Covid-19 clusters broke out in wet markets and food centres across the island, and customers avoided these areas.

People would just buy what they needed - most of the time just meat and vegetables - and get out. Not many would stop by to get their coffee.

We had no choice but to pivot online and start offering delivery services for online orders. Initially, we weren't sure if things would work but we had to try to move the business. My wife even went back to school and took a course on digital marketing and analytics.

Amirah Yusoff: We had to learn the ins-and-outs of doing business online, such as dealing with logistical partners and working with overseas suppliers for packaging for delivery items. Both of us are not good at taking photographs, but we had to take product photographs for our website. We also had to learn Google and Facebook marketing quickly and on the job to do everything on our own.

Mr Tay: Our online orders now make up 30 per cent of the stall's sales volume. The bulk of our sales are still made physically, but the sales we make from our website definitely give us a boost.

I took over the stall from my grandfather in August 2019.

Covid-19 was really a huge challenge. But I never once thought of giving up the business, and it was something I was passionate about.

My grandfather grew up in an era - five decades ago - when technology almost did not exist, so he was resistant to change.

Although we were encouraged to accept e-payments during the pandemic, he still preferred cash as he liked to see the money before him. With PayNow or PayLah!, he didn't know if the money was accounted for.

Even today, he still does not understand how the online marketplace works, but he trusts us with it.

Mr Marcus Tay and Ms Amirah Yusoff pivoted online and started offering delivery services for online orders during the pandemic. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

We hope that our stall at Tiong Bahru Market will run for as long as it can. Now that restrictions are being eased, we hope to cater coffee for people who have returned to working in offices.

We are looking forward to exploring more platforms and online marketplaces such as Shopee and Lazada.

Ms Amirah: Since we set up social media accounts, our relationship with our customers has improved. We can chat with them at any time and tweak our offerings to their preferences. At the stall, we cannot talk to them once they leave.

Without the pandemic, we may not have explored online platforms so quickly, or even done it at all, so Covid-19 is actually a blessing in disguise.

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