How To Set Up An Ecommerce Business Singapore


Brick-and-mortar retail is on a decline in Singapore. With many stores closing down, from small businesses to big-box retailers, it’s safe to assume the ‘retail apocalypse’ has finally caught up with the people of Singapore.

The numbers are scary – and by the looks of it, it’s not just the American chains in Singapore that are going bust or closing down. Local start-ups are also shutting down in huge numbers. From fashion to food delivery stores, to physical food stores, and so forth, the world of retail has suffered a serious loss over the past few years.

Started with Forever21 crumbling under pressure. A few years in and HonestBee would also come tumbling down. And then there was a tirade of more and more well-established retail stores also going bust.

With all these facts thrown at our faces, it’s easy to jump to a conclusion and make half-baked statements in the lines of retail is dying.

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However, nothing could be further from the truth. What we’re experiencing is a not a demise of retail, but a major pattern shift. It’s catastrophic, but only to those who still cleave to the almost phased-out idea of brick-and-mortar businesses.

Enters ecommerce

Replacing the old way of running a brick-and-mortar retail store is electronic commerce – or ecommerce, as most of us know it.

The retail landscape has been fast-evolving, and the main culprit instigating the change is the unprecedented wave of new innovations. Technology sits at the centre of it all.

Your success as a retailer is no longer about how deep your inventory goes or how far it stretches; it’s about creating engaging experiences for your target customers. Many of the businesses you see struggling to remain afloat were once well-established brands that ruled the market and terrorised their competitors. They offered a diverse range of products for their customers to choose from.

They thrived because of their size and money muscles. But they failed because their ignorance couldn’t allow them to accept the fact that the world of retail is fast-changing, and that they should adjust and look into the possibility of converting their retail stores into ecommerce portals.

Those that understood the industry and the direction that technology was taking us made the change fast enough, and they’re now having a heyday.

Technology has given consumers more power to decide on how and when to shop. It has created an ecosystem where consumers award you for creating frictionless experiences, rather than the depth of your SKU.

Many of the monolithic brands that fell off would learn about this new shift. But it was already too late for most of them as they tried to adapt. So, they did what was expected of them – took their loses on the chin and packed off whatever was left and moved their camp elsewhere to re-strategize and figure out the next step.

For a budding entrepreneur, this comes as a hot investment opportunity. The only question you should be asking is, ‘how do I get started?’

And luckily for you, this is your ultimate guide to starting a successful ecommerce business in Singapore.

How to Start Ecommerce Business in Singapore from scratch

Ready to join the ecommerce community in Singapore and take advantage of this lucrative business venture before it’s all flooded and no longer viable?

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Well, here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

Step One: Learn before you take the first leap

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We get it: you’re still trying to work past the hoopla of learning about a new business idea. But don’t let the decision you make be driven by the excitement you’re swimming in. Instead, give yourself time and reflect on the whole thing. Find out more about ecommerce and some of the challenges that you’re likely to incur on the way.

Visit various sites and choke in every piece of information about ecommerce that you stumble across. Visit forums such as Reddit and Quora, and find out what the online community has to say about it.

Contact small retailers around Singapore, as well as other parts of the world, and ask them as many questions as you can. You want to make sure that the decision you make will come from a place of being informed and not out of sheer excitement.

And while at it, don’t forget to attend ecommerce exhibitions and organised meetings on meetup.

Step 2: Study Your Competition

As you read this, remember that with every lucrative business opportunity comes unbending competition. Chances are also good that there are a few other people already thinking about entering the industry and selling a similar line of products as you.

This shouldn’t put you off – but it should shape your business model and how you plan to conduct your online operations. You can learn from those who took a jump on you and joined the industry before you had even conceptualised the whole idea.

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Learn to draw inspiration from what they’re doing best and how to capitalise on a few of the areas that they’re failing.

You can kick things off by running some SWOT analysis – where you get to define your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Use the findings to fuel your online operations and set everything up on the right track.

Step 3: Get Your Proposition Right

Before you can go ahead and implement your idea, ask yourself this question, ‘why would anyone want to buy from me?’

What’s so special about your offer that would make anyone skip another business offering the same products as you and instead opt to buy from you?

It’s a mug’s game. You’re not just competing on price. For all we know, you could still add value to your product and charge more, and still use that as the main advantage you have.

This is especially true for consumable products (like batteries). Your value could be in offering batteries that last longer.

Another solid trick would be to offer gift-wrapping services at a small extra fee or offer free shipping for those who spend a certain amount of money on your product.

You’re not restricted as to what you can come up with. If anything, this is where you let your creativity fly and use your imagination to come up with something that’s totally out of the box.

Step 4: Choose a Platform

You need a website or an online platform where your customers can view your products and make a purchase. For you, this is more than a website, but software with a shopping cart and a backend where you can monitor all the transactions that are happening.

You have a buttload of options when it comes to this. One is to choose from the slick subscription services such as 3dcart, Magento, and Shopify. You also have the option of choosing a free platform such as WooCommerce, WordPress ecommerce, and so on.

If you’re not too techie, we’d recommend that you go with one of the off-the-shelf options we’ve provided. These try to simplify the whole process for you and save you the trouble of digging through complex codes. Plus, you have the issue of security to contend with.

Step 5: Test Everything and Make sure it Works

You can only launch a site that you’ve tested and established that it’s working. The best way to do this is to get a few of your friends and ask them to use the site. Watch them as they try to complete different transactions and try to establish if there’s any problem.

Find out where your site is hosted and make sure it’s reliable. Can it support heavy traffic? What’s the site’s uptime?

Remember to ask your friend or throw the question on online forums and other platforms to find out if the hosting service you’re using is capable of handling an ecommerce site while guaranteeing your peace of mind.

Step 6: Don’t Forget the Logistics

You’ve researched your products and competition and even set up your ecommerce store. What next?

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Logistics. You read that right. The biggest mistake you can make at this point is to treat the logistics involved in this line of business as an afterthought.

The first thing you’d want to address here is the issue of postage. Be sure to evaluate all the options before you, both in terms of time and cost.

You have to figure out the most cost-effective and efficient way to pack and deliver your product. Remember that none of this is cheap.

The point is to factor all the logistics into your financial planning. Find out if you need an extra hand in this. Even more important is for you to cover yourself with employer’s liability insurance just in case anything goes wrong.

Step 7: Put on Your full Marketing Gear

Your business isn’t going to market itself. You have to put the word out there and let the world know of your existence.

Don’t forget your success in this, for the most part, depends on how well you’re able to market your business.

By setting up an ecommerce store, doing all the research, and getting all the logistics in order, you’d have only covered half of what it’s expected of you. The other half all goes to the marketing bit of it.

This is where things get a little complicated, and where all the effort you applied could come crumbling down at any moment.

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There are few things you need to understand to get this right. First on the line is SEO. You need to formulate a rock-hard SEO strategy to gain visibility in the search engines. Read plenty of articles on ecommerce SEO and come up with a well-structured plan on how to get it done right.

If you choose Shopify, WordPress commerce, or Magento, try installing the following list of plugins on the platform: CreareSEO, Yoast SEO plugin, and SEO Meta Manager.

Also, try experimenting with Google AdWords, and find out more about how to market your ecommerce business on social media, particularly on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Step 8: Taking Payments

Taking card payments has never been this easy in Singapore. If you chose to set up the site on Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento, then you don’t have to worry about payment gateways as these platforms come integrated with their own payment systems.

For those who chose the DIY route, PayPal can be a great place to start as it’s easier to both manage and run. It also accepts card payments.

Initially, PayPal was designed for individuals that buy and sell commodities on eBay. But over the years, the company has grown to be one of the leading money transfer systems online.

Whether you’re planning to run a small or high-profile business in Singapore, you can be sure PayPal will be able to handle all your payment needs until you see the need to change to something else.

Step 9: Bookkeeping and Finance

There’s no way you’re succeeding in all these without first teaching yourself about managing your finances. Come to think about it; you’re about to launch a multi-billion-dollar business. With it comes the burden of keeping proper financial records and ensuring all your accounts are in order.

Your responsibilities in all this stretch far beyond setting up a website to ensuring everything is up and working as it’s supposed to. You have to plan about everything in advance and remember to include it in your initial financial budget.

Be sure to factors in your start-up costs, as well as the amount you’ll be spending on advertising, marketing, inventory, office rental, and staffing. Don’t forget to include the operational cost.

Every penny that leaves your pocket to cater to anything involving your business, either directly or indirectly, must be included in your financial records and planned for in advance.

You have three ways to go about this:

  1. By handling the bookkeeping and all the financial administration activities yourself: With this, you’ll have to take some accounting lessons or enrol for an accounting class.
  2. Hiring an in-house accountant: If you have the financial resources for it, you can go ahead and hire someone to help you with managing your financial accounts.
  3. By outsourcing it to an agency or partner: This is particularly important for account reviewing and auditing. You can always outsource this role to a qualified financial agency, you know.

The point is to try and integrate your ecommerce website tightly to your accounting system. This will help to simplify everything, and ensure that you’ll be able to account for every penny coming in and out of your business.

What you can Sell in Your ecommerce Store

The only restriction you have as to what you can sell in your ecommerce store is what’s legal. Meaning, you have items that run to a count of hundred thousand to sell on your website.

For instance, you have the option to sell:

  • Office equipment and supplies
  • Computers, computer hardware, and software
  • Music
  • Books
  • Beauty and health products
  • Games and Toys
  • Cosmetic store
  • Music production equipment

And so on… just let your creativity sour to the sky, and you’ll have more ideas on what to sell than you can manage to experiment with.

In a report filed by the Asian Exporters Index in 2011, Singaporean eBay sellers unload the highest number of watches to other countries. Next to watches, Singaporeans were also found to be the biggest impulse buyers of jewellery, gems, computers accessories, business items, and clothing.

You might want to read more on this to find out what sells and what doesn’t in Singapore.

Final Thoughts

At this point, all you have to do is follow this step-by-step guide, and you’ll be on your way to launching one of the most successful ecommerce stores in Singapore.

For more information or help with setting up your ecommerce website, talk to our ecommerce experts at MediaOne, and let them help you get started on the right foot.


About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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