urians and digital payments? Even giving spare change to homeless can now be done by scanning a QR code but it all started somewhere.
“Durians were my inspiration and I knew that digital payment would be the next big thing, so I embraced both of them,” claims a Singaporean shop owner MJ Heng.
At 60 years old, MJ is constantly smiling and does not say no to a quick dance while listening to Michael Jackson.
“If you don’t try durians, you’ve never truly visited Singapore.”
It’s hard to miss the giant durian sculpture along the shophouses Sago Street in Singapore. The iconic display in MJ Heng’s shop Sweet Musings is not only an ode to Southeast Asia’s favorite fruit but also an Instagram-worthy spot for the hundreds of tourists that pass by daily.
“When I first started my business, Chinatown lacked a distinct character. I knew I wanted my shop to stand out amongst the rest,” said MJ, 60.
The shop initially sold only Taiwanese-specialty products such as sun cakes and pineapple tarts, owing to its heritage to his former Taiwanese business partner.
However, the business had trouble attracting customers. Poor sales and the increasing reality of closing down forced MJ to rethink his business strategy.
“I knew that we needed to offer something that is unique to Singapore in order to attract customers,” he said. “Durians, which we Singaporeans crave for, came straight to my mind.”
Digital payments attracted Chinese crowds
Durians were also starting to gain interest among Chinese tourists. Over one million Chinese tourists visited Singapore in the first half of 2019 alone and that number is expected to continue growing.
For many businesses in Chinatown — MJ’s included — it was increasingly important to cater to the growing Chinese tourism appetite.
“I started hearing talk about Alipay and mobile payments from the news and my own personal travels to China. I knew that digital payment would be the next big thing was eagerly waiting for Alipay to come to Singapore,” MJ recalled.
Beyond the in-store marketing tactics, Sweet Musings has little to no digital marketing presence, and MJ attributes the shop’s popularity to the Alipay “Explore” feature. It allows users to find businesses closeby that support Alipay.
MJ and Katherine estimate that at least 30 percent of all sales were made via Alipay and that 9 out of 10 Chinese customers would use it to pay instore.
A new way of payment- only for young customers?
MJ thinks mobile payments are suited for all ages.
At a spritely age of 60, he acknowledges that consumer preferences between people of his generation and the younger crowd are vastly different, and it is necessary to step outside of his comfort zone to grow the business.
“I see Alipay as a weapon of choice to attract the right customers. I tell anyone who comes to me for advice, as long as your business is catering to Chinese tourists, you should adopt Alipay or you’ll be missing out on a huge opportunity,” Mr. Heng said.
Now in its fifth year of business, MJ shows no signs of slowing down.
“This is my passion. The happier my customers are visiting my shop, the more joy it brings! My business is different from others. I embrace technology and will continue to advance in this direction.”