The e-commerce boom has benefited many businesses, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic restricted in-store shopping. Online shopping has since become the new norm for many, propelling e-commerce platforms to gain immense popularity over the past few years.
Amidst the success that many of these businesses and platforms have found, two entrepreneurs found that a segment of the Singapore market was not well-served by the e-commerce boom: brick-and-mortar stores.
“I read about a new food brand that met my dog’s special dietary requirements. Even though there were three pet stores within two kilometres of where I lived at the time, a search on Google only showed Shopee and Lazada listings,” Jan Gasparic, co-founder of Fairmart, told Vulcan Post.
“On my way home one day, I popped into one of the pet shops in my neighbourhood and they had it in the store this whole time! It’s the 21st century and we’re sending rockets into space, yet we can’t easily view the products carried by stores in our vicinity?”
Jan was not alone in his frustration. A fellow entrepreneur that he met in the Entrepreneur First program, Daniil Moskovtsov, expressed the same sentiments. Together, they decided to launch a startup that would help these brick-and-mortar stores get their products online.
While they were both keen on pursuing their new idea, they faced a difficult challenge: the Covid-19 pandemic. The founders were based in different parts of the world when they decided to work together, and did not meet in person until six months after starting to work together.
“Our early days were all remote and we were shipping prototypes between New Zealand and Hong Kong, where we were both based previously. Building a company with someone you’ve never met in person was challenging, but like so many things during the pandemic, we just got on with it and got it done,” said Jan.
Tech is a great equaliser
Upon researching the problems that brick-and-mortar stores faced, they found some issues that needed to be addressed.
Existing platforms were designed for online stores, which typically sold a smaller selection of products. On the other hand, they found that retail stores typically carried over 2,000 products. As such, it would be a huge hassle for these stores to manually key in the data for their products onto online platforms.
Additionally, while shoppers still mostly buy products offline, the vast majority of shoppers search for products online first. This is why retail stores lose more than US$4.5 billion in sales to digital competitors every year — all because retail store products were simply not searchable online.
Therefore, Fairmart decided to help them automate this process. Using their smart scanner, partnering retailers can simply scan the barcode of their products, and the data will be published on Fairmart’s page, along with Google and Facebook.
Shoppers that are looking for specific products will then see the products on search engines, and can either head to the store to buy, reserve the product, or purchase them online.
Thanks to their smart scanner, a task that would have taken over 200 hours of manual data entry could be accomplished in less than half an hour.
Fairmart is solving the perennial problems that prevent local retailers from leveraging the benefits of digitisation, starting with the most labour and time-intensive task of managing online inventory. By enabling automated listings, Fairmart helps local shoppers find what they’re searching for, while enabling retailers to focus on what they do best: driving sales and customer engagement.– Jan Gasparic, co-founder of Fairmart
In addition to helping these stores list their products online, Fairmart also allows these stores to better understand their performance through data analytics.
Brick-and-mortar stores often do not have the data needed for business decisions, but with digitalisation, they can see which of their products are being sought out online, and decide which ones to stock.
“One of our clients was very surprised when we showed him that niche products in his inventory were attracting more new customers than what he thought were his ‘hero’ products. The data we provide empowers retailers to understand what customers are searching for and supports their assortment decisions,” shared Jan.
In exchange for access to Fairmart’s platform, store owners pay a monthly subscription fee of S$50 for being listed on Fairmart’s platform.
“Brick-and-mortar stores is a massive market, [worth] around US$625 million in Southeast Asia. And yet, so few technology companies are building solutions for them. There’s an enormous opportunity to unlock digital commerce for this segment,” noted Jan, adding that Fairmart is only getting started in revolutionising the e-commerce landscape.
Last month, the startup announced the closing of an oversubscribed seed funding round, led by Quest Ventures and Entrepreneur First. The round raised S$2 million of investment, and Fairmart will be using this fresh funding to continue expanding their pool of clients.
Fairmart is also planning to make improvements to their data analytics, and hopes to provide data-driven insights for their customers.
After all, as e-commerce booms, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to survive and Jan believes that Fairmart is helping to give these stores “a fair shot” to compete with their online equivalents.
“D2C e-commerce was the first wave of digitising retail. The second wave has been the giant marketplaces such as Shopee and Lazada. Fairmart is the next wave where we take all the tools that the big players have, and make them available to every local and neighbourhood store out there,” he added.
Featured Image Credit: Entrepreneur First