6 common pitfalls F&B businesses face when going online

In physics, inertia is defined as an object’s resistance to a change in velocity. Humans and businesses alike tend to resist change until they come up against an unstoppable force such as a really big object, a great stimulus, or, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many F&B establishments—especially the most traditional ones, like street hawkers—are still wary of digital tools and platforms. But at a panel discussion at LIT DISCOvery, a recent virtual career symposium organized by Young NTUC, Fave Singapore’s managing director Ng Aik-Phong shared that COVID-19 has made it impossible for F&B joints to remain completely traditional. 

“COVID-19 has brought this wave of digitization that’s going to continue no matter which industry you’re in,” he said. “People are staying home—they’re not going to stores or dining in. The pain of the pandemic is forcing F&B establishments to digitalize out of necessity.”

He suspects that even after the pandemic, it's not going to fully go back to how it was. 

At this panel discussion, Aik-Phong and three F&B industry veterans share their thoughts on how to overcome six of the most common roadblocks F&B businesses face when digitalizing:

Ng Aik-Phong, Managing Director of Fave SingaporeGilberto Geata, Director, Southeast Asia, Google Customer SolutionsDouglas Ng, Founder, Fishball StoryEddie Seetoh, Director and 3rd General Owner, 9s Seafood

Fearing digitalization for being “too complex”Digitalization is the use of any digital tool—like WhatsApp or Google Forms—to change a pre-existing traditional function. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a head-to-toe revolution.

“I would encourage SMEs to simply think about what they’ve been doing traditionally, and consider how that could be done online,” advises Gilberto Geata, Southeast Asia’s Director for Google Customer Solutions,. 

When COVID-19 broke out, for example, Fishball Story’s Douglas Ng had to find a quick solution for meal delivery. When some private-hire drivers offered to help deliver the orders, he immediately invited them to his shop and held a meeting.

“We weren’t quick enough to get on board different delivery platforms. So we had to develop our own system,” he recalls. “We immediately structured the delivery fees and decided to use WhatsApp to coordinate and accept orders. Maybe it’s a caveman method compared to joining a food delivery platform—but it’s simple enough, and works for me.” 

Even simple, everyday tools like WhatsApp and Google Forms can help F&B businesses streamline existing processes. Not being active on social mediaFishball Story has been building its social media customer base for years. During this period, the hawker stall was able to take advantage of its social media platforms to increase awareness and inform customers about their deliveries. 

Thanks to the reach they’ve built up over the years, Douglas explains that their customers “can go to our Facebook page, which has a lot of information about us, and they can even order the food directly as well.”

9s Seafood’s Eddie Seetoh also went through a similar process. “We are not afraid to show customers what goes on behind the scenes to assure them that we have great quality,” he shares. “We regularly show photos and official reports with our new products. Structured images and designs are very important to attract positive attention—we want to woo customers with interesting visuals.”

The key lies in providing as much information as possible for your customers. People can’t walk into your store during a pandemic. But they are searching for you online. 

One of the best ways for SMEs to establish an online presence is by using Google’s free listing service, Google My Business. Then you can build a website to showcase the products and content that people are looking for.

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