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How This Singapore Start-up Helps Brick and Mortar Shops Drive Business

WhereIsWhere helps physical stores capture the attention of constantly connected consumers

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 28 Mar 2018

How This Singapore Start-up Helps Brick and Mortar Shops Drive Business

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

No doubt the e-commerce market in Southeast Asia is growing, by 28.5% in the last quarter of 2017 to be exact. According to data from Frost & Sullivan, the size of the market surpassed $6 billion, with Indonesia being the single largest B2C e-commerce market in the region.

But for Singapore start-up WhereIsWhere, 2018 will be the year where brick and mortar shops will strike back.

Ask founder and CEO Terence Mak, who believes that “the next level of optimization will be on the other side of the smartphone or computer screen. It will be in the real world, where brick and mortar moves to tap Internet commerce to drive footfall.”  

WhereIsWhere aims to harness the potential of location-based marketing by providing effective and affordable tools to target and convert nearby customers and drive in-store traffic. It hopes to level the playing field for SMEs and mom-and-pop stores with limited resources by turning advertising — an expensive activity — into an affordable fixed pricing model that allows merchants to target consumers in the vicinity.

How it works is simple. Businesses can register on the platform for free, and from there they can post activities and listings. Merchants then have the option to add basic or premium services based on the needs of a particular location.

“They can actually push unlimited marketing messages on our self-servicing dashboard which allows them to design and run campaigns across multiple outlet locations in real-time, for a fixed monthly fee,” Mak says, adding that those who pay the fixed monthly fee will be featured first when it comes to listings.

A trip that sparked the idea

A trip to Phuket was what sparked the idea in Mak. As he was exploring the island, he noticed two things: Merchants were struggling to get customers to stop by their shop, and consumers, for their part, did not have a way to discover nearby shops that carried the products they wanted. These merchants, he says, had to rely on passer-by traffic and small signs to attract customers.

“With WhereIsWhere, we hope to revitalize the Singapore offline retail sector which accounts for 22,000 establishments and 3% of its total employment,” Mak says.

Mak, a self-confessed “tech geek to the core,” started his career in software engineering, primarily designing phone banking systems before moving on to solution sales and regional business development.  

“It was more so towards the end of my salaried career that I hoped to build on my experiences across technology and media by veering into entrepreneurship,” shares Mak. At 29, he began his journey as a technopreneur with his first company in 1999 amid the dot-com bubble, and he has never looked back since.

“I am inclined to focus on starting technology platforms that simultaneously enhance consumers’ lifestyle and help businesses, and I started WhereIsWhere in high hopes that consumers as well as retailers of all sizes will realize its benefits,” Mak says.

But it was not always smooth sailing. WhereIsWhere was met with skepticism, with investors and merchants questioning its potential to work in the market.

“Some also do not fully comprehend what we are offering, linking it to something they have seen in the past and dismissing it as a ‘has-been,’” he recalls.

Since the initial hurdles, the company has raised over $1 million in funding and support from a number of key Singapore retailers, including Wisteria Mall and Old Chang Kee. It is looking into harnessing the full potential of location-based marketing to disrupt the entire retail industry.

“Apart from expanding our merchant and retail network, we hope to improve the capabilities and search parameters of our self-servicing platform to fully capitalize on the mobile-first, on-demand economy and reach over 80 percent of Singaporeans using smartphones, ” Mak says. “We also hope to enhance our per-outlet monthly plan to cover more features beyond live updates and flash campaigns directed towards nearby consumers.”

WhereIsWhere hopes to expand its footprint beyond Singapore into markets such as Thailand and Taiwan, whose retailers, according to Mak, face similar frustrations.

“We are committed into empowering more merchants and retailers by offering them a cost-effective alternative to typical marketing channels while improving and streamlining consumers’ shopping experience through our merchant and retailer network expansion,” he says.

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