When Wendy Liu arrived in Singapore as a 17-year-old, all she wanted was to do well in her studies. She not only graduated with First Class Honours in Electrical & Electronics Engineering from Nanyang Technological University but also went on to co-found ezbuy in 2010.
An online shopping platform with more than 3 million customers from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and that stocks products from regions such as China, US, Taiwan and Korea, ezbuy was acquired in 2018 by Lightinthebox, an international e-tailer listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Liu, who holds double portfolios as CEO at ezbuy Singapore and CFO of Lightinthebox, was born in China but is now a Singapore citizen. She was attracted to the Red Dot for its entrepreneur-friendly environment, lauding it as “one of the world’s freest economies with excellent global connectivity and easy access to research organisations, supporting infrastructure and stakeholders…with promising talent who play crucial roles in increasing efficiency, streamlining business and logistical processes.”
Read on for her insights to leading a multinational team and navigating her company through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the start of Covid-19 pandemic, ezbuy reported increases in basket size and online transactions. How do you think this will entrench e-commerce as the way of life?
We observed a staggering increase in customers from the age group of 55 to 64 – between April and May 2020, the number of ezbuy users in that demographic tripled. It’s possibly driven by having to stay home during the circuit-breaker in Singapore. These customers make up the smallest age demographic of the online retail market, at around 4%.
They are one of the later adopters for e-commerce; they did not grow up with the internet so the unfamiliarity of purchasing online can be a barrier for them. It’s a trend similar to China, where more seniors are becoming digitally savvy through necessity. There have been reported increases of 50 to 80% among the elderly who are using food or grocery delivery and online payment platforms. For those who have switched to e-commerce, they could continue with it in the new normal and embrace the convenience of online retail.
ezbuy distributed 300,000 free masks across 100,000 households in Singapore in May. How did this initiative come about?
We have always prided ourselves on being the “easy” and simple choice and making a difference in the community by providing tangible solutions to better help Singaporeans. When it became mandatory by law for Singaporeans to wear masks when outdoors, we noticed our customers faced challenges to acquire masks that were of good quality yet affordably priced. So we pledged to provide free masks for those who needed the masks, whether or not they were existing customers. This was part of the mask distributions by our parent company LightInTheBox, who have also given out more 1.2 million free masks across Malaysia, Pakistan, North America and Europe.
Key lessons you learnt that will equip you for the new normal?
The new normal will present its own set of unprecedented challenges. One value I have always carried with me is perseverance – stick to your vision and you will overcome your challenges. But for ezbuy to persevere to provide customers a seamless experience, we had to exercise a certain amount of flexibility.
During circuit breaker, almost 80% of transactions made on ezbuy were via the mobile app. People used their phones for everything – accessing, purchasing and comparing products across platforms in an instant – and bypassed websites entirely! In the new normal, I see the mobile phone functioning as a Swiss army knife – from safe entry registration to physical malls to accessing virtual shopping platforms and comparing prices instantly. So ezbuy is focusing more on our mobile app, which offers exclusive in-app promotions and allows users to engage with one another to secure more significant discounts.
Describe your leadership style.
Open and flexible. I feel that I balance quite well between being strict and encouraging. I’m also more than happy to share credit for accomplishments, giving due acknowledgement to key persons to further encourage their potential and ambition. As a result, I feel the managers I work with perform well and to high standards; they are always striving to improve. Every member on our team must contribute to the common goal. So when I assemble a team, I look for people with complementary skill sets and characters; this readies us for different types of challenges.