Adapting your retail business to a hybrid model requires the right approach. Local fragrance boutique Hush Candle’s founders Chelsea Low and Nicole Su share key lessons on how they have learnt to make that transition.
Many may expect that local fragrance studio Hush Candle would double down on its physical retail presence to appeal to their customers' sense of smell.
However, since its launch in 2015, Hush Candle has never had a permanent brick-and-mortar store. Instead, it utilises a mix of in-store stockists, live events and e-commerce solutions - such as Amazon.sg - to sell their range of scented candles, essential oils, and scented sprays.
Hush Candle’s adoption of both online and offline selling services is known as "hybrid retail", which is rising in demand as more consumers expect immersive retail experiencestoday, after developing new shopping habits during the pandemic.
We are beginning to see a post-pandemic pattern today. We are going back to what it was like before, with some key differences, where e-commerce and offline sales are equally important again. The next challenge for many businesses is to be ready for these new trends.
Chelsea and Nicole
Co-founders of Hush Candle
With this approach, Hush Candle generated over SGD 1 million in revenue in 2021. We decided to speak with Hush Candle's founders Chelsea Low and Nicole Su to get some lessons on how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) could develop a hybrid retail model.
1. Harnessing the strengths of the online and offline sphere.Firstly, Chelsea and Nicole believe that businesses should always understand the strengths of online and offline sales and use them intentionally along the customer's journey.
They shared that in-person stores provide an important first physical touchpoint for new customers, which can cultivate customer loyalty. Hush Candle regularly attends trade shows and fairs, and distributes its products at stockists such as Sephora and SOJAO.
"Our customers in Singapore are still a bit traditional. They still want to touch, feel and smell our product. Having some physical presence gives them a chance to experience our fragrances and candles and make a decision.”
- Chelsea and Nicole on the importance of physical experiences.
An important memory will form once customers feel and smell their products, shared Chelsea and Nicole. That will prompt a sale in person or online, allowing customers to enjoy greater convenience and flexibility.
Today, Hush Candle distributes its products on its website and e-commerce sites. Through e-commerce solutions like Amazon.sg, customers can explore product ranges, purchase them and then reliably receive their products anywhere in Singapore.
"Selling online really strengthened our customer engagement. We could cater to the customer's journey and do meaningful things like recommending more curated products and keeping their minds at ease by providing personalised email messages."
- Chelsea and Nicole on the benefits of online sales.
According to the duo, online shopping has improved their overall customer experience. Email status updates and curated scent recommendations have helped their customers feel more secure with their purchases, which is something they shared was difficult to do in the physical sphere.
2. Brand building needs to happen everywhere.Chelsea and Nicole believe that brand building is a crucial pillar of any hybrid retail business strategy. The founders shared that it is important to have your brand's values and philosophy infused in all aspects of the business to ensure consistent connection between customers and businesses across the online and offline sphere.
"It's important for businesses to translate branding into everything they do. At Hush Candle, we keep everything straightforward, fuss-free, and simple. Everything you see from our scents and designs to collaterals and copy emulates this branding."
- Chelsea and Nicole on their brand philosophy.
For example, Nicole and Chelsea use this brand philosophy to guide product conceptualisation. This is why their best-selling product, Lavender Essential Oil Candle, exemplifies the need for simplicity and accessibility.
Brand building even extends to how Hush Candle selects its stores. The duo choose to only distribute their products at retail stores with aligned brand values, such as sustainability or simplicity.
Regarding online sales, the duo only choose e-commerce solutions that enhance their brand's credibility. Verification features, such as Amazon.sg's Brand Registry, were thus a criterion in their selection process.
"As a customer, I'll be very confident that I'll be getting authentic products, which is a huge motivation when online shopping."
- Chelsea and Nicole on the importance of brand credibility.
3. Going online is not just a fad - it's about thinking ahead.The pandemic prompted the digital transformation of many retail businesses, but according to the founders, businesses must go all in to keep themselves competitive.
The two admitted that the pandemic was a wake-up call for their business' digital transformation efforts.
"When Covid hit, it did us a solid one. During this period, we built a great website and e-commerce infrastructure to support our new demand even when we were short of resources. Eventually, it pushed us to the next milestone of our business."
- Chelsea and Nicole on their digital transformation journey.
Moving forward, the duo shared that having a strong e-commerce infrastructure enables them to accelerate growth by reaching new customers in the region. Hush Candle has plans to expand into Australia, the United States, and Europe eventually, but have faced high logistics costs in doing so by themselves.
Another piece of advice they have is for SMBs to double down on their online presence.
"It's important to follow new marketing trends and patterns. We realised that a static form of marketing, such as Instagram, was not working. We need to create more interactivity, and that's why we are planning to produce new video content on social media such as TikTok in the coming year."
- Chelsea and Nicole on their online presence.
Doing so has allowed Hush Candle to rise above its competitors, which have increased significantly after the pandemic.
4. Don't just observe sales - observe your customers.It is easy to believe that all customers are cut from the same cloth. In reality, customers will vary across the online and offline spheres. Chelsea’s and Nicole's advice to SMBs is thus to ensure that products sold online and offline are curated, presented, and packaged to meet the demands of a particular customer base.
"The online and offline spheres have their own sets of audiences. Our product offerings for each medium are different, and we curate them to whatever the audience is more comfortable with. The tricky part is trying to understand these differences."
- Chelsea and Nicole on curating their products.
From Chelsea’s and Nicole's experience, people who already follow the brand tend to purchase gift packages at their stockists and trade fairs. In contrast, single items sell better online as they are bought by those who want to try their products.
Sales data and consumer patterns offer Hush Candle a helpful way to understand these patterns. Next, they hope to use Amazon.sg's sales monitoring tools to assess if e-commerce solutions are an excellent way to drive sales of seasonal and promotional products, such as their Christmas collection of scented candles.
It's time to embrace the future of retailIf Hush Candle's experience has revealed anything, shoppers today have dynamic preferences and evolving demands. To keep up, SMBs cannot be over-reliant on one selling mode.
If you're an SMB owner, head to https://sell.amazon.com.sg/ to learn how to enhance your retail business' online aspects. It's time to join the hybrid retail wave for your business’ long-term growth.
This article was first published in amazon.sg