At school, Wendy Liu‘s favourite subjects were mathematics, data and other computing-related subjects. Pursuing a degree in electrical and electronics engineering was a natural urge, as she believes that engineers make significant and impactful changes for our society, leveraging on technology to re-shape lifestyles. Once out of university, she bagged a very desirable job in her field in a multinational company.
Then, a trip to China changed the course of her life. Already bitten by the technopreneur bug, she lapped up the chance to become the cofounder of Singapore-based e-commerce platform ezbuy in 2010. A decade later, Wendy is the chief growth officer at Chinese retail giant LightInTheBox that acquired ezbuy in 2018. She tells AsiaBizToday how e-commerce platforms help small businesses, ensuring more female representation in boardrooms and more.
Foray into Entrepreneurship
At the time that Wendy was gainfully employed, she visited China. She was impressed by the wide selection of products that were available on the Chinese e-commerce platforms. A discussion about this with a friend back home led to the conceptualisation of ezbuy.
She recalls being a part of this group of aspiring entrepreneurs who shared the vision to provide consumers in Southeast Asia the access to a global marketplace with efficient and convenient shopping. In her mind, she was just exploring a good idea, while trying to pick up additional business and e-commerce related modules largely out of curiosity. However, that little step took her on the journey into an entirely new domain, paving the way for her future career.
When they first began operations, they had to take care of everything from processing the orders to shipment and even after-sale services. “It was much later that business picked up and we could increase manpower, upgrade our office space,” she shares. Today, the platform brings millions of products from China, USA, Taiwan, Korea and local merchants to over 3 million customers from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
Gender Representation in Workforce
Happy to note that there are more females taking up lead roles in various functions within the C-suite, Wendy rues that they are still largely underrepresented in critical executive functions. “While there is an increase in representation in functions such as human resources and administrative departments, there is still a lack of females in roles that carry the power to make decisions and provide clear routes towards higher ranks,” she elaborates.
The corporate world, as well as the start-up ecosystem, needs to make a conscious effort to consider what each person uniquely brings to the table, she feels. Being receptive and accepting new leadership patterns, she says, not only creates new patterns for success but also acts as the springboard for getting more women into the C-suite.
She believes that fostering a more inclusive workforce is the first step towards better gender representation. “An inclusive workforce cultivates an environment that values each individual, as well as aims to harness the abilities and qualities of each individual. This can be achieved by discouraging cliquish behaviour and exclusivity,” she explains. Such behaviour, she adds, cultivates a work environment where both genders are equally considered for work opportunities, and career promotion and progression. Additionally, companies could introduce programmes to help educate employees on how to navigate difficult conversations and mitigate unconscious bias, she suggests.
Even the most ambitious women can feel intimidated or unsure, especially when setting foot in industries that are traditionally male-dominated, feels Wendy. Therefore, she suggests women should speak up for themselves instead of waiting for their skills or achievements to get noticed.
“Speak up and exhibit your capabilities instead of holding back. Trust that you have the ability to do anything you set your mind to and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” she advises. She also maintains that they must be able to embrace their feminine ability to be soft yet firm at the same time while being a professional. This often translates to having the persistence to tolerate yet be able to keep calm to take a strong position on things that matter the most, she feels.
She also warns that in order to progress and achieve goals, one must be ready to take calculated risks. Any amount of doubt and uncertainty, she says, need to be overcome with curiosity and perseverance. “With that comes the confidence to deal with the situation regardless of the outcome,” she thinks.
For merchants and vendors of any size, Wendy insists, being a part of an e-commerce platform would be a requisite for business survival. She cites a recent report that forecast e-commerce sales in Singapore will hit S$13.4 billion by 2026 to say it may also help bring a manifold rise in their revenue stream. Platforms like ezbuy can help with this digital transformation by providing an omnichannel presence, including mobile apps and websites, she thinks.
She feels that ezbuy has given a boost to Singapore’s local economy in two major ways – facilitating digitalisation of economy and by providing goods at very low delivery fees to consumers. “ezbuy promotes the development of digital infrastructure, and provides digital payment structures which small businesses could leverage. The growth of the digital economy has accelerated tremendously in Southeast Asia with more investors and venture capitals diverting funds into the region’s booming e-commerce and digital payments,” she informs. This has resulted in consumers being increasingly drawn towards e-payments for its convenience and faster check-out process, she adds.
Consolidating large volumes of parcels and delivering them in bulk has also allowed the platform to bring the delivery fees low. The smaller delivery costs also make it possible to pass the savings on to customers. These savings are oftentimes diverted towards more purchases, thereby increasing the overall sales. Wendy says that this increase in sales has prompted many businesses like Mr. Bazaar, a Singaporean FMCG wholesaler, to come on board. Another retailer Home.y registered a 300% increase in sales during the circuit breaker period. They realise that ezbuy enabled them to effectively market and amplify their products to large numbers of potential consumers, allowing them to experience a much higher sales volume.
Supporting Small Businesses
E-commerce portals, says Wendy, helps local small businesses with their digital transformation. They can leverage the platform’s user-friendly interface to cater to the digitally savvy users.
In fact, this support system helped many small businesses not just survive but also thrive during the pandemic. “In Singapore alone, the number of customers making grocery purchases from local vendors on ezbuy increased by 581% in this period. Without the necessary logistic capabilities, many small retailers experienced difficulties keeping up with the sudden surge in delivery demand,” she shares. By stepping in at this time, ezbuy enabled these merchants to meet the higher demand for home delivery without being overwhelmed.
Outsourcing this task to the e-tailers, the small businesses were also able to lower their operational costs, she informs. Moreover, the decision making for these smaller businesses became more data-driven with the help of analysis of the click-through-rate and conversion potential of various products provided through the platform algorithms, she explains, adding that the curated product recommendations given to consumers also increased the exposure of these small vendors.