Then, two years ago, SingPost made its biggest digital push, creating SP eCommerce to tap into the Internet retail boom in Asia. Today, it counts nearly 1,000 companies as clients, including Philips, Uniqlo, Deckers and Muji.
SP eCommerce's offices feel more start-up than mailroom. There is a Foosball table in one corner. Employees can play Ping-Pong. The group's chief executive, Marcelo Wesseler, created his first e-commerce website in 1997 and worked in Silicon Valley before moving to Singapore. Other employees have come from technology stalwarts like Amazon and Hewlett-Packard.
The company also created a customer-care department. At its Singapore offices, 30 or so employees handle the phones, answering questions or addressing complaints. An additional 200 customer-service agents work elsewhere.
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As part of the e-commerce expansion, SingPost upgraded its core delivery services. It has bolstered its network of warehouses and fulfillment centers, most of which are in Asia. The centers handle freight and customs clearance so goods can move faster through the region, where regulations differ from country to country.
In Singapore, SingPost has invested $182 million in building a high-tech warehouse that will merge logistics and sorting into one assembly line. Workers punch or scan an order on a screen, and robotic trays deliver products from shelves for them to pack and ship.
SingPost is pitching itself as a conduit to the Asian consumer, particularly in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. With its swelling population of young and mobile consumers with newly disposable incomes, the region offers a rich seam of new opportunities.
Looking beyond its borders for growth, the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi last year opened a regional headquarters in Singapore, using it as a launching pad to move into Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Next, it is targeting Vietnam and Thailand. It teamed up with SingPost for support on logistics for e-commerce, which accounts for 80 percent of Xiaomi's sales in Southeast Asia.
At its campus in Singapore, SingPost built a warehouse specially for Xiaomi, where orders from the first click to the final delivery are handled. Inside the 11,000-square-foot space, a smartphone battery is stuffed into a cardboard box, sent flying down a green conveyor belt and zipped off to the customer a few miles away. A video camera is perched above, controlled by someone who watches from Beijing.
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"E-commerce is growing quickly across the region," said Steve Vickers, Xiaomi's general manager for Southeast Asia. "We are participating in that shift from retail stores to online stores."
SingPost is helping the Chinese telecom company ZTE to offer its products regionally through a website that will go live in Malaysia in a few weeks. ZTE is trying to sell its own brand of smartphones directly to consumers in new markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and India.
Most countries in Southeast Asia are experiencing rapid change, said Herbert Chan, a regional manager at ZTE. "These countries have got huge populations and they've got the right customer base," he added.
Triumph International had been eyeing Southeast Asia for years, waiting for online consumers to reach a critical mass. Then, last year, Triumph approached SingPost to get started.
"Using Singapore as a base, you can reach 680 million people in the region. That is practically half of China," said Teo Doy, managing director of Triumph in Singapore.
Next, Triumph is planning to expand into Indonesia, once again with the help of SingPost.
"They have completely evolved," Ms. Teo said. "I mean, who sends letters anymore?"