What started out as a small family business 50 years ago now boasts an online presence in more than 140 countries.

July, 2015

Far East Flora started in 1965 as a small nursery business. Over the years, it has built a reputation as a leading gifts and flowers provider in Singapore. Today, it delivers to more than 140 countries, offering more than 1,000 choices in flowers, gifts, plants and hampers.

In 2000, fuelled by an ambition to transform the business into a leading florist and gift company in the region, the company’s Managing Director, Mr Ryan Chioh, decided to launch an e-commerce website.

“We took advantage of the dot-com boom to help us grow the business and widen our regional reach,” he says.

Reaching out to a wider market

Thanks to its e-commerce platform (www.FarEastFlora.com), the company was able to reach out to a broader range of customers and markets – not just in Singapore, but globally.

“Within a few months of setting up our online store, we were receiving orders from Australia, New Zealand and even the United States. As much as 60% of our online sales were coming from overseas customers,” Mr Chioh says. “Our order numbers quadrupled within a month.” In 2006, Mr Chioh decided to expand the company’s online presence further. “We launched another e-commerce website (www.FarEastFlora.com.hk) targeted at the Hong Kong market,” he explains.

As the company’s market research showed that the local community in Hong Kong is predominantly Cantonese-speaking, FarEastFlora.com created a dual-language website to help it reach out to locals and cater to their needs.

“This has helped us win more customers and gain a significant online presence in Hong Kong, which translates to more sales and increased revenue,” Mr Chioh says.

In 2010, FarEastFlora.com expanded its foothold into Malaysia with the launch of www.FarEastFlora.com.my and Floristika, a one-stop floriculture centre in Kuala Lumpur. The move further complemented the company’s long-term growth strategy into key markets within the region, as it is easier and quicker to enter new markets with its ready-to-launch e-commerce website, as compared to the time and investment needed to set up a physical storefront.

Ryan-Chioh-Final-1-400x600Agility and adaptability

“The way I see it, there are pros to both options – the e-commerce platform and the actual shop,” says Mr Chioh. “The pros of an e-commerce platform are that we don’t have to worry about high rents or invest as much time and effort needed to set up and maintain a physical shop. This can mean huge cost and time savings for the company.”

“Setting up a physical shop in another location is obviously more expensive than maintaining a website, but at the same time, it’s important to have that physical presence, as part of our long-term plans in the region because we were a new player. Having a visible physical storefront gives confidence to customers that we were not a fly-by-night company.”

Improving efficiency

Its e-commerce platform also help FarEastFlora.com streamline its business operations. “We’re able to manage the entire business in one place – from inventory and storefront management, to marketing and shipping,” Mr Chioh says.

Customers can also place their orders immediately, reducing the hassle of back-and-forth calls and emails, as was the case in the past. As Mr Chioh says, “The process of taking orders manually through the phone is also fraught with the risk of error. We’ve had many cases where orders were incorrectly written down or misheard.” This led to goods being delivered to the wrong address, resulting in expensive re-delivery costs and delays. With the company’s e-commerce platform, such errors are kept to a minimum or even eliminated, as a checkout process is in place with validation steps to ensure order accuracy.

Initially, however, these improvements brought teething problems which the company needed to address. “It took about six to 12 months to train our staff as they were not so IT-savvy back then and some didn’t understand the need for the e-commerce platform in the first place,” Mr Chioh explains. “At the same time, we simply weren’t prepared for the huge increase in orders we had when we first went online. As a result, customer complaints started to rise, and we had to quickly adjust our logistics, delivery and service recovery processes.” Yet over time, the e-commerce platform has more than proved its worth.

“Our staff have certainly realised the benefits, as it helps us handle our customers and high volume of orders more efficiently,” says Mr Chioh. “What’s more, we’re now able to confirm online orders in as little as three minutes, compared with 20 minutes over the phone – which translates to about an 80% increase in productivity in terms of time saved.”

Enhancing the online customer experience

As its customers become savvier, expecting faster and more intuitive service, FarEastFlora.com has continuously upgraded its website to ensure its customer service remains cutting edge.

Through SPRING Singapore’s Capability Development Grant (CDG), the company has enhanced its e-commerce services by adding new and improved customer-friendly features to its website, such as delivery tracking, as well as a mobile application that allows customers to pay for their orders by smartphone.

“In this competitive business environment, it’s important to stay innovative – something that SPRING helps us with,” says Mr Chioh. “It is easy to lose customers due to poor online customer service, and that’s why we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our customers’ online experience.” “Through e-commerce, we’ve been able to gain more exposure and grow our business at a much faster rate – something we were not able to do when our sales were limited to the local market.”

Key takeaways

– An e-commerce platform enables companies to reach out to a wider range of customers in a shorter time frame and able to operate on a 24 hours 7 days a week mode.

– To find out how SPRING can support your transformation journey, visit www.spring.gov.sg/CDG

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or email lifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg.