Amy Read grew up in North East Scotland, but spent most of her adult life in London.
Amy moved from London to Singapore a little over five years ago with her husband. They have three young children who are all at school here. They love living in Asia and proud to call Singapore home.
Prior to moving to Singapore, Amy worked at BT (British Telecom), heading up their online sales and marketing department. She has over fifteen years of digital marketing experience and am passionate about everything to do with online.
After moving to Singapore in 2011, Amy worked at Facebook for a short period, before leaving to take up a role as the Chief Marketing Officer of NMG Group, a global financial services company headquartered in Singapore.
It has always been Amy’s passion to start up her own business, so after her third child was born, Amy thought it’s now or never and took the plunge to start Gift Less Ordinary.
In your own words what is Gifts Less Ordinary?
Gifts Less Ordinary is an online marketplace selling unique and personalised gifts. Most gifts on the site come personalised and beautifully wrapped. All products featured have been hand picked by us. The site is lovingly curated, only featuring the best of the best, so the experience is more like shopping in an exquisite boutique.
Personalisation is at the heart of everything we do from the products we feature to the customer service we offer.
We launched at the end of October 2015 in Singapore and Hong Kong, and have now expanded to Australia, Japan and the US.
How did you come up with the idea of Gifts Less Ordinary?
The idea came about after I’d just had my third child and a friend sent me a gift from the UK that contained the most beautiful set of new baby clothes and shoes, personalized with my son’s name. I was so overwhelmed with how much thought had gone into the gift, it felt so personal.
It made me realize it was really hard to find these types of gifts in Asia.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up Gifts Less Ordinary?
Once the idea was established and the domain registered, we enlisted help to register and set up the business, as this was not a process we were familiar with and wanted to make sure it was done right. The business was registered in a matter of days and the process was much easier than I expected.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?
Starting your own business involves overcoming many unforeseen challenges; be it making sure customers receive their gifts in a timely fashion, or ensuring the website looks and performs the same regardless of location around the world. Technology is always evolving and so there is always a solution to any difficulties if you search hard enough.
The other thing I would say is that when we started this journey, we were clueless as to what was accessible to us as a start up in Singapore. The best meeting I ever had was with someone from SPRING Singapore, who advised me of all the things I should be doing. Singapore is a great place to start-up a business, I just wished I had tried to find out a bit more, right at the start.
How have you been developing Gifts Less Ordinary?
We launched in October 2015 and managed to benefit a bit from the Christmas rush. Since February, we are experiencing close to 100% growth month on month. We have just launched three new stores in Japan, Australia and the US this month.
We are also continually developing the site and service to enhance the customer experience. Retention means everything to us. We recently introduced a custom pop up at check out, to give customers a notification when they are importing goods that exceed a certain amount with one Partner, as import duty may be levied. Being informed is key to retain customer loyalty. We strive to ensure that there are no hidden costs or nasty surprises and we hope that the customers leave the site, wanting to come back for more.
We are also continually seeking out new high quality products and Partners to feature on the site. I often get asked how many Partners we have on board, as if that’s a measure of success. What is more important to us is having the right Partners, those who offer beautiful products and can deliver an exceptional customer experience. We call those who sell through the site ‘Partners’, and we mean this in every sense of the word. When we select Partners, we meet them all individually so we know the product and the service will be the right fit for our brand. We work with them in a Partnership, where it’s as important for us to help them grow, as it is for us to have their loyalty and support, as we are travelling this journey together.
What kind of feedback did you get for Gifts Less Ordinary so far?
Feedback has been really positive. Our customers love the fact that we are so responsive. They love the fact that what they get on the site is something different. We take the hard work out of gifting for them. Buying thoughtful and bespoke gifts for a friend or a loved one should be a pleasure, not a chore, and we endeavor to give every customer this experience.
Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?
In Asia, I feel safe to say there is no one like us. We have found a niche. We will scale in time, but in the right way.
I have no doubt that we will face competition, but as long as we do things right by our Customers and Partners, I’m not worried we will lose them to the competition. It’s all about retention and we put both our Customers and Partners at the heart of everything we do.
What can you tell us about the industry?
If there is one phenomenon that has become growingly widespread in retail, it is the move away from fast shopping to personalization.
Customers are looking for more than just beautiful products with exquisite quality, they want to purchase unique, one of a kind gifts, gifts that tell a story.
A recent research study suggests that more than 50% of consumers expressed an interest in purchasing customized products, and one in two consumers feel that customized products make great gifts (Deloitte Research, June 2015).
Personalisation has to be at the heart of everything we do.
What is the future of the industry?
For us, the future is all about personalization. Not only in terms of the uniqueness of the products we offer, but in terms of the customer experience we provide.
We are also working on a few very cool new features to be introduced later this year, which will take online gifting to a new level!
Was there anything that disappointed you initially?
I’ve learnt a lot on this journey so far and I can’t lie and say it’s all been plain sailing or easy, it’s taken a lot of effort to get this far. However, I do feel incredibly lucky in that I have recruited an incredible team and have an amazing support network, who have helped get us where we are today. Our team motto from day one has always been ‘We will get there’, and I really believe we will.
What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?
It’s hard to compare, but based on my experience so far, I’d say Singapore is an incredible place to start a business. It’s really encouraging and supportive of its start-up community, not only offering grants and incentives, but by working hard to create a community by which entrepreneurs can come together and flourish.
What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?
I can’t really compare because I don’t have the experience of being a real entrepreneur outside of Asia, but what I would say is there’s a real sense of an entrepreneurial community here in Singapore. Everyone seems to know one another and is willing to offer a hand wherever they can, it creates an entrepreneurial buzz that I’ve not experienced before in Europe.
What is your definition of success?
My definition of success is all about ensuring that we retain the customers we have. I wish to surpass customer’s expectations through not only offering amazing products but by providing them with a personalised service, that exceeds their expectations.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur my whole life, just the timing was never quite right but I realized there is never a right or wrong time, you just have to take the plunge and get on with it. There’s nothing more invigorating than coming up with an idea as to how you can advance the business, and making it happen literally the very next day. I’m inspired by what I do, by the people I work with and pushing the boundaries to be the very best we can be.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
Believe in yourself, stay focused, work hard and remember the bad days will always be superseded by the good days.
Surround yourself with a great team who share your energy, drive and vision. Together you make great things happen.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?
Being an entrepreneur is hard, some days are harder than others. Never stop believing in yourself and remember what you have accomplished so far. I’ve never worked harder in my life, and as everyone says ‘welcome to the world of start-ups’. But one thing I would say if it wasn’t so hard, everyone would be doing it, just stay focused and keep going.