Hubert Burda Media

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Singapore is well on its way to infiltrating the virtual world with an increasing number of companies setting up online shops based here.

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If there is anything a shopaholic loves better than having a cornucopia of shops to explore, it would be having round-the-clock access to these temptations at her fingertips.
No wonder, then, that online shopping has seen a boom in popularity in recent years. Market watchers and retail experts have long been tracking the explosion of e-commerce but up till the past few years, online-shopping for designer apparel and accessories have been limited to a few international bigwigs such as Net-A-Porter.com and Luisa Via Roma.
But now, the competition for luxury shopping dollars looks set to heat up. Local entrepreneurs have been quick to jump on the bandwagon with unique offerings and rare brands for those on the lookout for one-of-a-kind finds that cannot be found in brick-and-mortar stores.
In the past few months, at least two online stores — Modajar and The Fashion Vein — have launched in Singapore. Both sites offer a carefully curated selection of labels, just like a physical boutique, and have distinct identities that reflect their owners' personal tastes, making them a refreshing change from the countless Singapore-based flash sale or discount websites. These sites join a select fold of independent Singapore based retailers to launch e-boutiques in the virtual world. They include Shopthemag, Gnossem and Doorstep Luxury, all of which have carved out a distinct identity for themselves.
Esther Wee, co-founder and COO of Modajar, says: “We have a mix of both established and independent designers from Europe and Asia in our line-up, thereby offering some known but not yet easily accessible labels and other niche, harder-to-find labels and pieces — items that are hot and desirable but not easy for consumers in Singapore and most parts of Asia to get their hands on.”
The site, which she runs with co-founder Bryan Tan, features cult favourite brands including House of Holland and LIE by Lie Sang Bong, as well as emerging designers such as Mauro Gasperi.
For Caryn Lim, co-founder of The Fashion Vein, her site was inspired by her shopping vacations. “I stumbled upon many local designers that I have not heard of with amazing designs and local flavour to their collections. Many of these designers are very new, with just a few collections to their name,” she says.
“But these designers have much to offer and you will not get a chance to come across these brands unless you travel. Hence, we want to be able to bring fashion-lovers these hidden gems.”
The site currently carries about 15 emerging labels from Bangkok, Hong Kong Malaysia and Korea, all of which are no more than five years old.
With an increasing number of shoppers trawling cyberspace to fuel their habits, it is no surprise that local retailers want a slice of the pie too.
E-payment firm PayPal estimates that by 2015, Singaporeans will be spending $4.4 billion on online-shopping, up from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2012. Other studies are also pointing to this exponential growth. A Visa survey found that nine out of 10 Singaporeans surveyed intend to spend online between March 2012 and March 2013. In fact, Ooi Huey Tyng, Visa's country manager for Singapore and Brunei, says: “E-commerce spend is actually outpacing traditional face-to-face transactions.”
She notes that it is the affluent consumers — those who hold Visa's premier Infinite and Signature cards — who are leading this growth in e-commerce spending. Between 2011 and 2012, Singaporeans spent an average of $16,487 online, which ranks the country as having one of the highest average online-spending amounts globally.
Lynda Moo, regional marketing manager for Club 21, which launched an e-store Club 21 Online last year, agrees that Singaporeans are a savvy bunch who enjoy the experience of online shopping. “There is a high penetration of technology and with many Singaporeans having studied or lived overseas where online-shopping is commonplace, many are comfortable with it,” she says.
With increasing numbers of time-strapped shoppers who have no time to visit boutiques during conventional shopping hours, setting up an e-store was a way to cater to this pent-up demand, adds Moo.
Besides, there are certainly fringe benefits when shopping from a Singapore-based website. For starters, the shipping costs are much lower, with some local sites even offering free local delivery. Shoppers also need not worry about hidden costs, such as the additional Goods and Service Tax that is charged when they buy items exceeding $400 in value from overseas websites.
From a business point-of-view, it is certainly more cost-effective for start-ups to go online since owners do not have to pay rent or hire staff. Singapore's reliable logistics system, stable economy and currency are also strong pull factors, notes these entrepreneurs.
“In addition, we have the advantage of having an open store, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Viral marketing and the use of social media are also relatively easy with an online store,” points out Wee of Modajar.
What's more, going online means retailers are no longer constrained by geography. Although it is early days yet, Lim of The Fashion Vein says she hopes to build an international demand for her site's wares. With about 80 percent of sales currently coming from the domestic market, she is already working on ways to increase international traffic flow. One of her upcoming plans is to introduce local designers to the website, so as to appeal to international customers who would not have heard of these labels otherwise.
Even Club 21, which already has a strong regional presence in the form of physical stores, sees the e-store as a way to reach out to a new group of customers.
Moo says: “Having an online presence gives us the ability to extend our reach beyond the markets where we currently have brick-and-mortar stores (and also) to fashionistas residing in towns outside the capital cities.”
In Club 21's case, the cachet the company has built up from its years of being in luxury retail has provided it with a strong launch pad for its online business. “Our regional presence — online and physical — helps to build our brand equity and reach as well as trust in our fashion curation and offerings,” says Moo.
“This helps online too, in terms of customers buying from us for the first time, as they trust that we are a genuine luxury fashion company and that our products are authentic and directly from the brands.”
Indeed, as an increasing number of retailers and brands put into motion plans to launch online boutiques, it will be the customer who is king with more variety and access to previously hard-to-find labels.
And that is reason enough to celebrate with some retail indulgence.