Innovating and Enhancing the World of E-commerce

When SARS struck in 2003, it changed much more than Asia’s public health systems. Innovative new companies like Alibaba exploded onto the scene in the aftermath, radically altering how the entire retail sector operated. As a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak similarly presents an opportunity to re-invent the supply chain, optimise operations and ultimately spur growth.

Even before COVID-19, Singapore’s e-commerce industry was expected to grow to US$27 billion (S$36.3 billion) by 2025. However, with growth comes growing pains, including dealing with cross-border complexities and increased demand while maintaining service standards and boosting productivity at the same time. To connect companies to solutions and present real-world problems to aspiring innovators, Enterprise Singapore and IPI have organised the E-Commerce Supply Chain Challenge 2020 (ESCC2020), an open innovation challenge that will close on 20 November 2020.

As part of the Singapore National Innovation Challenges, ESCC2020 invites startups, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large corporations to develop innovative solutions to problems faced by some of Singapore’s key e-commerce supply chain players. The winner of each challenge, posted by Ninja Van, Singapore Post (SingPost) and SATS in partnership with PwC Singapore respectively, stands to win up to S$2 million in co-funding grant to support their journey from prototype to adoption.


Dropping Inefficiency

Now that we can order virtually anything online, retailers need to figure out how to package it all. From delicate wine glasses to bulky furniture, every item needs to be securely packed to find its way to a new home in one piece. But with no standardisation—and a huge range of sizes to work with—ensuring that each delivery is safe and secure can get tricky. Every journey a package takes comes with its own set of risks, from tears to drops and even vibrations within the box.

With retailers taking their business online and many new to e-commerce, most packaging might not pass a standard drop test, where the conditions of shipping and handling are simulated to find out how the product or its packaging might fare.

As the largest and fastest growing last-mile logistics company in Southeast Asia, Ninja Van works with a variety of clients, and naturally, a variety of packages. With no way to efficiently check how a product is packed before delivery, Ninja Van has to deal with revenue leakage and productivity challenges. Damaged items need to be written off, which means monetary loss for Ninja Van, and a loss of reputation at both ends from consumers and retailers.With the goal of increasing productivity and minimizing financial losses, Ninja Van is looking for an efficient and versatile packing solution that is suitable for a wide range of items to be transported yet easily managed by all. Ideally, because a large amount of deliveries translates to a large amount of waste, the solution should aim to be eco-friendly as well.

Packing for Productivity

Drop test failures are not the only packaging problem the e-commerce industry faces. In a bid to quicken the pace of delivery, large firms have employed technology to handle tasks like sorting, weighing and processing items. Unfortunately, even expensive facilities dedicated to managing parcels can be foiled by bad packaging. Some ‘non-machinable’ packages cannot be processed because they are oddly sized or shaped, their barcodes are poorly located or the packaging is flimsy. These packages throw a spanner in the works and have to be handled manually from start to end—lengthening the processing time required and are more likely to be damaged as a result.

For SingPost and their regional e-commerce logistics hub, non-machinable packages can be a real issue. Even with recommended sizing, standard labels and multiple packaging options, it is ultimately the retailer who decides how his products are packed. While post offices can help standardise packaging, majority of parcels handled by Singpost do not fit within the stipulated guidelines so these non-machinable packages end up placing a strain on the facility’s manpower resources.

A new, innovative design that can handle a variety of e-commerce items or convert non-machinable items to be suitable for automatic processing would help protect products and increase efficiency—benefitting everyone in the long run. For ESCC2020, SingPost is open to unrestricted and innovative ideas from new packaging to other aspects of their business that will bridge the gap between themselves and other e-commerce players.

E-Commerce Across Borders

Getting a piece of furniture from China or cosmetic products from Korea has never been this easy; with just a few clicks, your products are on their way. Cross-border e-commerce has made shopping from a country a few thousand kilometres away easier than physically going to a mall in Singapore. But it’s not quite as simple behind the scenes. The lack of a unified global trade policy can make cross-border e-commerce complicated and difficult to deal with, especially when SME e-retailers do not have the resources that larger players do to track and update changes in custom duties and tax regimes.

SATS created a cross-border e-commerce logistics solution to address the gap and organise logistics activities with their partners. Right now, most e-retailers estimate the customer duties and taxes to be included in the price of the item, but their estimates are not always accurate and they might end up having to pay the difference, putting SMEs further behind big players and contributing to a vicious cycle that SATS hopes to break.

SATS and PwC Singapore are looking to streamline this process with a method that can provide e-retailers with the necessary and updated trade advisory information when they need it. To push this solution further into the future, SATS would prefer if the proposed solution could check for errors in the declaration information with artificial intelligence (AI).

Harness the power of technology, design and innovation with ESCC2020—an excellent opportunity to join forces with industry leaders and deliver real solutions to digital problems. Proposal submissions close on 20 November 2020 at 11.50 pm (GMT +8). For enquiries about ESCC2020, contact [email protected] for general enquiries and [email protected] for technical assistance.