ezbuy, the Singapore-headquartered e-commerce startup is now almost a “teenager”.
The eleven-year-old startup, co-founded by Wendy Liu and He Jian, is formerly known as 65daigou. Set up in 2010, it’s one of the early movers of cross-border e-commerce in Southeast Asia.
ezbuy connects consumers to top brands and sellers from China, US, Korea, and Taiwan on popular shopping sites like Taobao and Amazon via its Global Marketplace.
It services customers with “daigou”, a form of surrogate shopping to receive, check, and inspect goods for customers from overseas stores, before delivering them. Such services are often relied on by those who don’t understand the language used by overseas platforms, or for customers to buy from stores that don’t offer direct shipping to their country.
In 2018, US-listed Chinese online retailer LightInTheBox acquired ezbuy for nearly US$86 million (S$116.63 million).
Back then, ezbuy had promised its customers that they could go on making value-for-money purchases on the website.
We catch up with ezbuy’s co-founder and CEO Wendy Liu in an interview following the disruptions caused by the pandemic, to find out how the company’s numbers are and its strategies to tide over this period.
“Healthy growth”, expanded international footprint since acquisition
ezbuy currently serves around two million customers in Singapore and is growing at a healthy rate, according to Wendy.
“Our parent company, Lightinthebox, saw an 87.2 per cent year-on-year increase in net income in March 2021. Since the merger, we have expanded our footprint to serve global markets. Our aim is to build our business-to-consumer (B2C) cross-border e-commerce to scale globally.”
A check on e-commerce website tracker iPrice showed that monthly web visits in Singapore to ezbuy was at 1.5 million people in Q3 2020, improving from 1.3 million visitors in Q3 2019.
This indicates that ezbuy has seen supported growth amid the pandemic, thanks to its expanded footprint to feature more products from different countries and locally.
However, overall web traffic is still not as high as back in 2017, when it registered 2.3 million monthly web visits. The accelerated growth from competitors like Shopee and Lazada over the years has been impacting its market share in the Republic.
Beyond Singapore, ezbuy has active operations in Malaysia.
But the firm notes that intense competition is inevitable when providing its “daigou” services in overseas markets. To differentiate itself from others, it has been constantly trying to offer unique products and features.
ezbuy is still very much a Singapore-centered business.
A check on website tracker Similarweb showed that as of October 7th, 2021, 95.1 per cent of its site traffic comes from Singapore.
Group-buys strategy and keeping prices low
During the pandemic, ezbuy saw an increase in orders for both overseas and local merchants, Wendy said.
“We found that consumers would purchase immediate necessities such as groceries and essentials from local merchants, while home furniture, kitchen appliances, and other cleaning materials were purchased internationally.”
Consumers are typically drawn towards group-buying thanks to the lower unit prices they get to enjoy when buying in bulk.
A group-buy service is when customers join a group to buy a specific product at a discounted price. The discounted price is met when a certain number of shoppers commit to buying the product. This helps merchants to sell their goods in bulk, lowering packing and delivery costs.
In terms of keeping products price competitive, the e-commerce platform works directly with manufacturers, said Wendy.
This includes products sold under the Million Dollar Markdown promotion.
The service sells products procured directly from factories and manufacturers, which allows for better control over product quality and price.
“ezbuy has always focused on keeping costs low and providing the best value to our customers. This is done by consolidating large volumes of parcels and delivering them in bulk. This way, we keep our regular delivery costs low and pass the savings on to our customers.”
The savings can then be repurposed by ezbuy to purchase more products such as home essentials from local small businesses on the platform.
These, according to Wendy, represent the e-commerce site’s “greatest competitive advantage”.
For example, when Covid-19 hit Singapore last year, ezbuy managed to source a few qualified factories, secure face mask supplies, and sell these at cost price to ease the surge in demand for these masks in the country.
It even sent out free mask packs (five masks per pack) to 100,000 households via letterbox or doorstep delivery.
ezbuy also sources from factories to procure supplies of daily necessities such as groceries and home and living products.
“This year, we had worked with a factory and planned to distribute 100,000 sets of tissue paper packs free (four packs per set). As the business scales, we will continue to find ways to contribute back to our consumers and to create greater benefits for them.”
Going local – triple the number of local merchants due to pandemic
ezbuy has been refocusing its business model slightly away from cross-border e-commerce services, its main bread and butter.
Supply chain disruptions and pandemic lockdowns and restrictions have caused overseas flow of goods to face delays and higher freight fees.
“We used to focus more on cross-border e-commerce operations. However, as consumers’ needs evolve, we now place greater emphasis on onboarding and empowering local merchants to meet the growing demand.”
Within a year, ezbuy has increased the number of local merchants on its platform by over threefold, providing them access to real-time data-driven consumer behavior analytics and an agile operating model.
“By increasing the number of local merchants on our platform, we are able to cater to the urgent needs of our customers as local merchants will be able to bypass the delays in international shipping caused by the pandemic,” Wendy said.
“At the same time, consumers may have a greater online shopping experience due to shorter waiting time.”
Some of the top-selling items from local merchants include groceries, personal care, home appliances, and alcohol.
The changes have, according to Wendy, been well-received by customers and local merchants.
For example, one of the largest online liquor stores in Singapore, The Liquor Shop, witnessed an “above-average increase in sales volume” after partnering with ezbuy during the pandemic, Wendy said.
“Prior to that, alcohol sales were stagnant until ezbuy helped to connect the merchant with customers, at a time where physical interactions were not possible,” she claimed.
“We managed to tackle multiple issues with one solution in these difficult times: We were able to help local merchants to get back onto their feet while keeping ezbuy relevant at the same time.”
Selling ezbuy inhouse brand essentials to offer “better prices” to consumers
The e-commerce marketplace has also been improving on its range of in-house essentials, created with the aim to provide “quality products for consumers at lower prices”.
It works directly with factories in a bid to maintain stricter quality control, flexibility in product designs, as well as to offer better prices for consumers, said Wendy.
The business recently launched ezHome, a service that provides customers access to thousands of affordable home and living products.
“ezHome was formed to meet the needs of our consumers by offering them products curated based on the consumer insights that we collated throughout the pandemic. We want to address the pent-up demand among consumers, brought about after lengthy periods of social restrictions and having to work from home.”
Self collections continue to be popular
As the demand for online purchases continues to grow during the pandemic, ezbuy observed that more consumers are expecting faster local delivery and are opting for self-collection to enjoy free delivery.
“In the first quarter of 2021, ezbuy saw a year-on-year increase of 32 per cent on the number of shoppers buying local products and opting for free self-collection.”
“The demand for collection points has continued to increase this year, with about 75 per cent of our customers preferring to pick up their items from collection points. With our increased in-house driver fleet, we were able to cater to this demand for collection points.”
There are over 230 neighborhood collection points across Singapore, in high-demand areas situated at spots like car parks in Seng Kang and Serangoon.
The company says it will not reduce the number of collection points despite it being a major daily operation, as it wants to cater to consumer demands.
“As long as this demand stays strong, and there are no other unexpected operational disruptions, we are unlikely to reduce the number of collection points,” said Wendy.
Meanwhile, Wendy added that the safety of the delivery staff and consumers is also important.
ezbuy provides free hand sanitisers and masks to all its delivery drivers, allowing them to continue work safely. All delivery and pickups are also contactless to reduce Covid-19 risks for both customers and staff.
Customers that opt for pick-ups will be sent an SMS notification prior to collection to inform them of the contactless pick-up. They are also reminded to maintain a one-metre distance from others if there is a queue at the pick-up location.
For home deliveries, ezbuy will send an SMS notification to customers and leave the parcel at customers’ doorstep.
ezbuy Prime service sees stable growth
ezbuy Prime is a subscribed membership programme available to existing ezbuy members. It provides them benefits such as a flat international shipping fee of S$2.99 from China and the US regardless of the product’s weight, size, and quantity.
This means that a customer can order any amount of items and weight, and pay a flat fee of S$2.99 per shipment. The current membership fee is S$99 per year.
Wendy said that the Prime membership continues to be stable, but did not give details on whether rates will change amid higher freight costs.
“There was a spike in Prime members when we first launched in 2016 and five years later, the number of existing members remained stable.”
“We (continue to) see customers subscribing to Prime membership when they’re planning to purchase furniture from China. Most of our Prime members are regular shoppers who frequently purchase household items from China or branded products from the US.”
Navigating the uncharted endemic future
Even with the ongoing supported growth from customers, Wendy is still somewhat concerned that the shopping momentum might ease when the pandemic becomes endemic.
“In recent months as the vaccination rate of the population rises, consumers are starting to spend more time outdoors, and less time shopping online,” she said.
Among other challenges the company faced during Covid-19, is a manpower crunch. Further lockdowns, if any, might put a strain on business operations and lead to additional costs.
“During the initial stages of the pandemic, we faced an issue with manpower as some of our Malaysian and Chinese staff working in the warehouses and delivery team were unable to travel into Singapore for work. Local staff tend to work on a short-term basis as they find warehouse and delivery operations too exhaustive.”
To circumvent the manpower challenge, ezbuy had to split daily operations into several rotational shifts, increase the wages of warehouse and delivery staff, and hire more part-timers to cope with the large volume of orders.
The company also keeps its staff’s safety in mind while they go about delivering and packing parcels.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, ezbuy has introduced several safety measures including contactless deliveries with heightened safety measures in place, such as the practice of safe distancing and provision of face masks and hand sanitisers for all staff,” Wendy said.
“The safety of our people has always been our top priority, and ezbuy continues to ensure a safe working environment for all staff by enforcing strict safe distancing measures.”
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Featured Image Credit: SingSaver, ezbuy