How a failed US$200 e-commerce transaction in the 1990s helped Tollyjoy move into today’s digital economy
It is quite safe to say that there is no aspect of our personal lives, that has not been changed by the advent and acceleration of the digital economy.
Penetrating multiple aspects of businesses across all industries, companies cannot afford to overlook the power of digital influence on consumer decisions on what to buy, why to buy, and eventually where to actually buy it from.
For Tollyjoy, leveraging on the digital economy meant having to go beyond just investing in technology and establishing online retail touch points, to that of actively engaging social media influencers and consciously working towards becoming an important go-to-source of reference and information for consumers on their baby care needs.
Early adoption of e-tailing
The baby care product market has certainly come a long way since the 1970s when Tollyjoy first started out.
Then, the infancy of the market meant that there were only a handful of players catering to consumers’ needs. Eventually, the industry saw an emergence of a multitude of companies and brands offering a variety of products and services to a small and limited consumer marketplace.
With the advent of Internet in the 1980s, which was initially used for communication but eventually expanded into online selling, Tollyjoy transitioned from manual to computerization of processes.
The was crucial in helping us overcome the challenges of cost and cultivating the mindset across the organisation to embrace technology.
Tollyjoy though not a pioneer was certainly an early adopter of the e-commerce concept. Our foray into that space in the early 1990s began with trying our hand at developing of a homepage for the brand.
Unfortunately for us, our initial experience turned out to be very disappointing.
Prospects were very dismal and the first (and only) online order that we received, which was worth US$200, was cancelled — signaling the hurdles facing e-commerce in those early days, among which included:
- High Bank Charges – Very few banks were online-transaction ready and charged both the customer and the retailer high rates for online transactions
- Slow Internet Speed – Every webpage would take between a few seconds to a minute to load with poor internet connectivity and speed
- Webpage Hosting Costs – The cost of hosting a single webpage for the brand was expensive and inclusion of product images would incur additional cost
Needless to say that, though Tollyjoy’s initial e-commerce experience ceased within the first year and could possibly be deemed a failure. But it launched us (albeit falteringly) on that unchartered yet exciting journey into the digital age of e-commerce.
In 2012, the setting for e-commerce boomed.
People were getting more educated about the industry, the economy was expanding and with higher disposable incomes, consumers naturally searched for quality products designed to meet their lifestyle requirements. Consumers wanted to be in sync with present and/or emerging trends.
The brick and mortar retailing concept was slowly but steadily challenged by e-tailing, especially for products which didn’t need the touch and feel factor.
Leveraging on the emergence of key players — like Amazon and eBay — who revolutionized the whole online retail experience and selling space, Tollyjoy began to extend the brand’s geographical reach to other markets with an offering of functional and practical baby care products that included cleansers, detergents, toiletries, baby wipes and disposables.
At the same time we continued to maintain a strong on-ground retail presence, which is still an important component of our retail strategy, as we knew that consumers still preferred the touch and feel factor for wearables.
E-commerce alone would not completely replace the brick and mortar shopping experience for baby care and wear products, until consumers are familiar with the brand and its quality.
There is no denying the potential of the digital marketplace for baby care. Today there’s a plethora of choices amidst a sea of companies and brand names.
The market, although maturing, still possesses many opportunities to the discerning.
In 2015, the APAC region dominated the online baby products retailing market owing to factors such as a rise in the number of Internet users, growth in disposable income, and increasing participation of women in the workforce.
This region is also expected to witness the fastest growth and continue its dominance until 2020, according to the Global Online Baby Products Retailing Market 2016-2020 report.
Technology has a way to not only simplify the way we live our lives, but also enhance our sense of living.
The last few years have seen the massive proliferation of smartphones, tablets, phablets, and other gadgets, which are now starting to form an electronic ecosystem.
The ‘Internet of Things’ is an interesting and exciting concept, which could be an enormous driver for both growth and change for the baby care industry.
Virtual reality will transform the whole shopping experience of being able to touch and feel the textures or even smell the products at the convenience of your home.
Looking into the future, I have no doubt that ’21st Century Parenting’ will also drive the evolution of wearable baby technology, where “smart” mainstream products will soon be able to monitor temperatures, heart rates, oxygen levels, sleeping habits and even when diapers need to be changed.
Imagine the possibility of being able to control the ability to sterilize baby’s bottles just before arriving home from work, or the possibility of knowing the baby’s vital signs just from a wearable device that doubles up as a toy or even an outfit. And all this right from a smart device!
This will come as a natural progression for modern day baby care, which will be produced not only to help care for babies better, but also make parents’ lives easier, in a world where adult lifestyles are already being dominated by different mobile phone apps.
The next big plan is to take the Tollyjoy brand into the next phase of growth. This means increasing its global footprint, extending the market reach possibly beyond Asia and also investing in product innovation and technology that will allow Tollyjoy to establish its name as a market leader in the baby product manufacturing industry.
A far cry from a failed US$200 online transaction in the 1990s.
Tan Wee Keng has been the CEO of Tollyjoy Baby Products Pte Ltd since 2001 and led decision to bring the brand to Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Brunei. He is a business graduate from the National University of Singapore and says he’s been involved in the family business since his school days.
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