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Interview

Rising above the competition with dedication and online strategy

In a digital age where more than half of the world's population is connected to the internet, going online has become the obvious choice for many businesses. This is especially true with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where governments across the globe have enacted social distancing measures and encouraged people not to leave their homes as a preventive measure.

As a result, online shopping has grown tremendously over the past year — a direct response to the growing demand for convenience and safety offered through minimized contact. Worldbank.org reports that prior to the pandemic, the e-commerce industry had grown at a steady rate of 4.5% each year. But with the effects of the pandemic setting in, this number has continued to increase. In 2020 alone, statista.com found that e-retail sales amounted to over USD 4.2 trillion worldwide, with the promise of more growth to come in the following years.

The downside of growth

While this unprecedented growth has served as the push needed to bring aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, it has also translated into an increase in competition. Only with determination and strategic positioning can a seller truly stand out among their peers.

Take Mark Ho, founder and owner of Vision Auto Parts, for example. Mark has long had his heart and mind set on being an entrepreneur. During his college days, he had taken up marketing classes and at a relatively young age began selling online. He first tried his luck by selling liquor on Facebook Pages, but rigid restrictions on liquor advertising were soon put in place, hampering his business potential. He then decided to go into clothing, selling products such as vintage jackets and windbreakers. But the market was already highly saturated by not only regular sellers but also big brands who have decided to join the e-commerce boom.

And then the pandemic happened. And although the majority of people have had an easy time switching to online shopping for their wants and needs, online sellers have had to learn and adapt, dealing with even more competitors, handling logistics remotely, and adjusting to delayed international shipping.

Facing the challenge head-on

But even with the huge challenge looming above his head, Mark stood his ground. He tells us boldly, "I am a marketing graduate, and all we [marketing graduates] do is market, sell, network with other people, and introduce products to the market." Determined to not give up, Mark began to carefully plan his next move and follow the market.

In the end, his strategy worked and gave birth to Vision Auto Parts (and this time it's here to stay). In our interview with Mark, he shares his insights into how to find the right niche in the market, and how he upgraded his online business with e-commerce solutions in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Hi, my name is Mark Ho and I am the founder of Vision Auto Parts. I have been selling goods online since I was in college, so it's been about two or three years now. I just left my job last year, so right now while I'm focusing on stock reading, I am also selling online as a part-time job.

I wanted to earn some extra cash. Aside from that, my business has helped me improve my selling skills. After all, I am a marketing graduate, and all we [marketing graduates] do is market, sell, network with other people, and introduce products to the market.

It's really hard to find a [online] store that sells auto parts. That's why during the pandemic, I began catering to the automotive market, looking for products that were not easy to find in the Philippines. I realized there were only a small number of stores that cater to this market, so I assumed it would be a great opportunity for me.

I realized there were only a small number of stores that cater to this market, so I assumed it would be a great opportunity for me.

I source my products from Japan and order them through an auction site. However, it is a struggle to buy in bulk because there are a lot of restrictions on international shipping currently. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, shipping [from Japan] only took about two weeks. But since the lockdown restrictions were put in place, shipping now takes about one to two months. The shipping fee is also dependent on the weight of the products, and since automotive parts are heavy, the cost of shipping can be very expensive. That's why I only buy three to five items at a time.

I marketed my goods mainly through Facebook Pages. Back then I wasn't using any third-party delivery or payment apps, so transactions were done face-to-face. We meet up and that's it.

Previously, I had only used my own personal account [for selling online]. But as my customer base grew, messages and inquiries became harder to manage. That's when I decided that I needed a dedicated account for my online business.

Competition is really tight, especially when a lot of entrepreneurs are now selling online, selling almost the same products. The only factors that separate us [sellers] are the mastery of our selling [skills] and the prices of our products. And in terms of inventory, it was hard to keep track of what items I had.

The only factors that separate us [sellers] are the mastery of our selling [skills] and the prices of our products.

I created my own website. I found that some customers don't trust online sellers that only sell through Facebook and Instagram or even Shopee and Lazada due to negative experiences. They really prefer an online business that has its own online store website.

[Customers] really prefer an online business that has its own online store website.

One of the aspects that surprised me the most is how easy it is to create a website with Cafe24. If you have knowledge of HTML, you may opt to use that when creating your website. But if you're like me, with no experience using and encoding HTML, you can still create your website through the Edibot Themes app. It makes creating a website easier and more accessible for someone that has no coding or programming experience.

Edibot is pretty straightforward and easy to understand as it shows you its features and buttons at first glance with explanations. I believe first-time users will be able to create a store and adapt to it easily.

Moreover, I didn’t plan on selling on Lazada originally. But since Cafe24 has a feature that allows you to share products on Lazada, it gave me a reason to start selling there.

Cafe24 gave me an edge over my competitors. Other online stores only have Facebook Shops or Shopee accounts. But with Cafe24, I am now able to give customers more options, including the ability to purchase directly from my store. This has also allowed me to show my products to a wider customer base.

...I am now able to give customers more options, including the ability to purchase directly from my store. This has also allowed me to show my products to a wider customer base.

After figuring out his target market and securing a reliable product source, Mark began to find a way to make himself stand out from the competition. It was through his previous dealings that Mark realized that there was something that buyers wanted for that other sellers had yet to offer — a trustworthy website with its own online store.

Having his own online store website on a global e-commerce platform was a breakthrough for Mark. Not only did this raise his credibility and provide more options for his customers, but he also gained more freedom in how he was able to market his products.

We asked him what it's like now that he has his own online store website, and this is what he has to say.

I love that products ordered by customers are automatically marked in the inventory. It also gives me an option to cancel orders in instances when customers do not pay in time, in a week, or however I set it. I can monitor my inventory and automatically change it as necessary.

Aside from that, I can now create promotions and incentives for my customers. I can reward them with points when they purchase an item, which in turn will encourage customers to make another purchase in the future.

I really like the Market Plus tab on Cafe24. It guides new users on integrating their [sales] channels to their online store website. The integration of my Facebook Page on my online store website has really helped a lot. Posting products on Facebook is not that hard anymore since I can just sync them from my website inventory. It has helped me keep up to date with my product list and inventory.

Posting products on Facebook is not that hard anymore since I can just sync them from my website inventory.

I would personally recommend Cafe24 to other sellers. I find it easy to use and it will also surely help them with selling goods online. For me, Cafe24 is a more user-friendly platform than Shopify. When I tried using Shopify, I found it to be complicated and that stopped me from trying out their site further. But with Cafe24, it is easy, simple, and very straightforward.

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