[SG] 40-year-old watch and optical shop embraces digitalisation to find new growth

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In 1980, Mr Vincent Lee and his wife opened Kai Joo Departmental & Optical (@kaijootp) as a small showcase unit selling watches and providing other watch-related services. The next year, he moved to a shop unit at Tanjong Pagar Plaza in Singapore, and stayed there since, expanding his business to provide optical and optometry services. Business grew and his younger brothers opened their own Kai Joo shops and operated them independently.

However 40 years later, the global coronavirus pandemic resulted in Singapore implementing the Circuit Breaker in April 2020 to reduce community infections. The Circuit Breaker only allowed for businesses operating essential services to remain open, which meant that 65-year-old Mr Lee could only operate his optometry and key making services. At best, his once bustling shop only saw less than 10 customers a week.

Mr Lee’s children suggested for their parents to try selling their products online and signed them up for a Carousell account in May. “Carousell is a good platform to start an online business as it is easy to use (for both sellers and buyers), and does not charge any commission fee. However, as a 65-year-old, Mr Lee was not familiar with e-commerce nor IT savvy, so providing proper description and photos of his products were a challenge as he had to do it himself. So in September, I decided to make a career switch and take over the online platform so that my parent-in-laws can focus on the retail store, and relieve their stress of trying to adapt to technology,” shared Wen Hao. 

“Although Singapore has progressed to Phase 3 of reopening, business still hasn’t picked up to pre-Covid days. We saw at least a 50 to 75% drop in business during this period. When I started helping out with the business, I chanced upon the CarouBiz Booster Package on the Carousell website and saw that 90% of the package is being subsidised by the government,” said Wen Hao who took up the package. 

Single-handedly managing the Carousell shop, Wen Hao’s biggest challenges were marketing and finding new customers. “In the past, our customers were limited to those who stayed and/or worked around Tanjong Pagar, or who were recommended by our regular customers. However with Carousell, we have new customers from different parts of Singapore! Another advantage is that while our physical store is closed, we still have sales coming in on Sundays, as well as in the middle of the night. There is also an increase in enquiries regarding our products,” said Wen Hao, who found having the premium seller badge on Carousell gave his customers confidence.

His father-in-law has also warmed up to the idea of e-commerce. He said, “before we started, Mr Lee was concerned about how troublesome and unreliable e-commerce is, as he had heard of bad experiences where buyers offer very low prices for new products, or buyers preferring to purchase fake products at a low price. However after we have started selling online, he has seen how we can increase our sales via the online platform and customers gaining more confidence in us, with lesser occurrence of customers trying to negotiate for ridiculously low prices. Mr Lee is now more receptive to e-commerce.”