Dialogues

The Assassin Deliveryman

Interview with Muhammad Aidil Abdullah, Singapore Group Leader, Qxpress Pte Ltd

The e-commerce market in Singapore is expected to be worth US$5.4bn (S$7.46bn) by 2025, according to a recent report by Temasek and Google. The report states that the Republic’s e-commerce market was valued at US$1bn in 2015, with online shopping making up 2.1 per cent of retail sales – the highest proportion of all Southeast Asian countries surveyed. By 2025, Singapore’s e-commerce market is expected to make up 6.7 per cent of all retail sales, behind Indonesia’s eight per cent.

It is no surprise then that e-commerce giants are preparing to battle for a market share of Singapore’s burgeoning e-commerce market. Alibaba has already developed strong investments in the region through Lazada and SingPost, while Amazon has recently released plans to launch in Singapore in 2017. Lazada has also recently acquired online grocer, RedMart. It is expected to be a stormy and uncertain period for the e-commerce players, least of all the e-commerce logistics providers themselves. How can the smaller players hold the fort against the monstrous might of their competitors?

“It may be an advantage to have deep pockets, hi-end technologies and huge facilities. But I truly believe it is the last mile delivery service that makes the real difference. In order to succeed here, global companies, such as Amazon, must first understand the local culture. In that sense, our company comes out tops,” says Mr Muhammad Aidil Abdullah, Singapore Group Leader, Qxpress Pte Ltd.

In this issue of Supply Chain Asia, Mr Aidil shared with us his modest beginning as a deliveryman, the company’s plans for the future, and the potential impact of Amazon on Singapore’s e-commerce industry.

Learning to tear papers with pride

Like many leaders who fell in love with the industry, Mr Aidil did not initially plan to be in the logistics industry. In fact, when he first saw a UPS deliveryman wearing a neatly ironed, long-sleeve shirt and black, shiny shoes, in 1990, he poked fun at him.

“I thought he was crazy running around in that outfit in this weather. So imagine my surprise when I was offered the same job as a UPS deliveryman when I left the army! I was young and adventurous though, so I just accepted the role. In the end, I enjoyed my experience and that kickstarted my passion for last mile delivery,” says Mr Aidil, who continues to be in the industry for over 20 years.

But two months into his first job in UPS, he was brought to the office and tasked to carry out an unbearably menial job – tearing papers.

“I did not exactly have a choice, so I did what I was told. Then, after lunchtime, one of UPS’s senior executives from the US sat down with me, showed me the papers that he tore, and compared them with mine. His papers were cleanly and carefully torn while mine looked untidy and uneven. Clearly, I was not putting my heart into tearing the papers. I only did it because I had to. That was a wake-up call to me. I learnt that regardless of the task given to me, it is important for me to do it with pride and passion. I carry that lesson with me until now,” shares Mr Aidil, who eventually became part of UPS’s brokerage team that handled all customs-related matters.

After leaving the company 13 years later, he held managerial posts in SingPost, DPex Worldwide Express, and DHL before finally ending up at Qxpress, an e-commerce logistics provider that specifically catered to Qoo10 sellers and customers in Singapore with more than 40,000 orders to fulfil per day—not an easy task, considering Qoo10 currently leads Asia’s online marketplace with 2.5 million registered users to date.

But unlike his first job in the industry, he did not join Qxpress just to get his feet wet. He believes in Qxpress’s vision, and was prepared to dive into the company’s project headfirst right from the start.

“A close friend of mine was the first delivery vendor for Eurasia, which is now Qxpress. Due to that connection, I have known the company when they first started with a storeroom at Chai Chee, to having a warehouse now in Serangoon. My friend started with managing about 400 parcels a day to over 1,000 for the company. I felt that I was a part of this company even before officially joining it. That is how much I love and care about Qxpress,” he adds after joining the company in 2014.

A tough environment for newcomers

Mr Aidil has already held a discussion with the team regarding Amazon’s potential impact on Singapore’s e-commerce market, and he remains confident that Qxpress will continue to prevail in the storm.

“Firstly, we have a headstart in the industry. We understand the local culture, and we have built trust and understanding with the buyers and sellers. We have a relatively low turnover rate, which gave our local deliverymen a chance to build relationships with our clients. Unless our service level drops, this relationship is not something our clients can easily toss aside. I believe this is one of our advantages,” explains Mr Aidil, who first saw the potential growth of e-commerce during his stint in DHL when the company went through tonnes of e-commerce parcels daily.

In addition, Mr Aidil believes Qxpress Courier Operations system will ensure that the company continues to stay relevant. It provides an extensive level of visibility to the company’s delivery. This means that they can log into the system the night before to check 80 per cent of the delivery volume for the next day. To Mr Aidil, this is one of the unique features provided by Qxpress’s system, and refers to it as “the best system for delivery vendors”.

Finally, Qxpress has had experience in this situation before. When a new competitor entered the industry with attractive promotions and islandwide marketing, some of Qxpress’s clients have actually switched to its new rivals’ services. “When the competitor first came into the market, we initially lost some volume, but we quickly regained it in a month. So yes, it is possible we will feel a pinch again for a short while, but as long as we continue to carry out our services well at a competitive price, I believe we will maintain our market share. Customers may be momentarily enticed by Amazon but they will come back. Qoo10 may be more affected by Amazon’s entry into the market but Qxpress will continue to carry out e-commerce delivery services for other sellers and buyers,” shares Mr Aidil, who takes pride in the company achieving more than 99.9 per cent attempted delivery and more than 95 per cent successful same-day delivery.

Preparing for the battleground

Despite the positives, Qxpress is not resting on its laurels. There are plans to proceed with a 30,000 square feet warehouse next year and to consider adoption of technologies, such as a conveyor system. The company is also already looking at ways to streamline its operations processes and manpower.

“At the end of the day, as long as we continue to maintain our costs and meet the demands of the customers, we will stay ahead in the game. There will be teething issues of course, but we aim to solve them before Amazon settles down,” adds Mr Aidil.

While having suitable infrastructure and technology are important, talent management is still key to ensure that the company can further improve its standing in the industry. Mr Aidil is a hands-on leader in this aspect, and he regularly makes his rounds in the warehouse and even personally trains new drivers on the road. His love for the company means he has set a high standard for the company and adopts a no-nonsense attitude with his staff.

“I know they call me the assassin behind my back, and playfully warned the others when I am on the ground doing my rounds. It is funny, because I do not think I am a fierce person. But I take my work very seriously, and I actively seek feedback from my staff on what we are doing wrong and how we can help them do their job better,” says Mr Aidil, who leads a warehouse team of more than 60 staff, and an outsourced fleet of more than 250 vehicles.

Coming from a background of a deliveryman, Mr Aidil is especially critical of the drivers and expects the very best out of them.

“Drivers will make or break Qxpress. I love this company too much to let it go down the drain,” states the 47-year-old. Mr Aidil often reiterated his passionate belief in the importance of good last mile services.

Does this mean he miss being a simple deliveryman again? He takes a moment to think over his response, smiles and replies with a simple “yes”

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