All photos courtesy of KSISTERS and WHENIWASFOUR

Local e-commerce entrepreneurs share business tips

The local e-commerce scene has been thriving, with reports showing the market will soon be worth 7 billion USD by 2025. But owning an e-commerce business isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We speak to two local e-commerce entrepreneurs — Jungmin, who runs KSISTERS, a K-style clothing store for mothers and kids, and Li Ling, who runs WHENIWASFOUR, a local-flavoured lifestyle gift store —on the lessons they’ve learnt the hard way.

How did you build your brand online from the start? What was the most difficult part? 

Jungmin (J): Nobody knew about KSISTERS when we launched in July 2016, so building credibility for my store was the most difficult part. I sent clothing samples to several influencers who were mothers to gain credibility and be part of their network. When my store reached its hundredth day of operation, I celebrated with a pop-up store. That offline event helped to create more awareness for my brand and also allowed me to interact with my customers.

Li Ling (L): We started WHENIWASFOUR about seven to eight years ago. Back then, we used WordPress, so we couldn’t have online store features such as a shopping cart or PayPal payment. It was inconvenient for customers to purchase from us as they had to make their payment through bank transfer.

It was also problematic for us because we had customers who ordered items but never paid. Another difficult thing about running an online store is that you need to hold your own product shoots, edit the photos, and upload them online. It was time-consuming as we didn’t have a proper studio to take photos, so we spent much longer on post-processing.

Can you tell us about a mistake you might have made early on in developing your webstore?

J: When I first started using Shopify, I developed many website features I wanted on my own without realising that many of those features were already available in their application store. I learnt that it’s important to know how to outsource smartly, especially if you’re a one-man startup, so I started investing in readymade app functions instead of developing them from scratch.

L: We’ve been using Shopify for our online store for a while now. In order to save costs in the beginning, we chose a free website theme which was pretty unresponsive. It was only after a few years that we realised the bulk of our customers access the store through their mobile devices — which means we probably lost out on many sales opportunities. Eventually we revamped the entire website interface so that it was responsive and user-friendly.

So what do you think is the most important feature an e-commerce site must have?

J: Quality images. When I handpick my brands from Korea, I make it a priority to work with brands that offer high-quality images of their products.

L: User-friendly interface and high-resolution images.

How do you build a loyal customer base online?

J: Deliver the best quality service online and offline. Answer your customers’ questions promptly and implement a fair return and exchange policy. Customers will appreciate it and return to your store. If possible, add personal touches with hand-written letters, or bring up their last purchase in an email. It shows that your business is connecting on a personal level with its consumers.

L: We usually send thank you cards (with promo codes on them) or small gifts to our loyal customers. We also have special promotions for those who sign up to our mailing list.

How have you effectively marketed your online business?

J: I’ve done a few things. First, share your customer reviews. When satisfied customers send me pictures of themselves in my label, I share the pictures on social media to not only gain more favourable attention but also allow potential customers to see how the clothes fit and look like.

Second, maximise your social media marketing. I update KSISTERS’s social media platforms at least once every day, sometimes up to four or five times. Engaging with your customers will ultimately lead to more sales. Plus, I firmly believe that the more you communicate, the better your business will strive to be.

L: We send out email advertisements to our loyal customers. We also engage with our target audience through social media platforms like Instagram.

What resources do you use to learn more about e-commerce?

J: I recently joined Crib Society to learn from other successful entrepreneurs. I believe learning from existing successful businesses is the best way to learn. I also browse online forums and attend workshops, which are both great opportunities for you to learn and join a network.

L: Frankly speaking, we don’t have a lot of time to read up on e-commerce so we don’t stick to a specific resource. But the topics we delve into include affiliate marketing and social media.