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Running online stores is becoming a popular career choice for graduates hit by the pandemic.

By Agnes Lam

Janice Yeung, 22, a graduate of the class of 2020, is now running her own online boutique Twosloth with her friend who also graduated this year. They sell clothes imported from Japan on their Instagram online shop.

The labour market is gloomy for fresh graduates due to the pandemic. Yeung thinks it is a great opportunity for her to start her own business instead of looking for a full-time job. 

“We think that we have nothing to lose,” Yeung says. “The tough job market during the pandemic discourages me to look for full-time work. Starting my own business is a better choice for me,” she says.

The unemployment rate of people aged 20-29 in April and June 2020 rose to 11.7 per cent from 5 per cent in the same period of 2019. 

Yeung started shopping from Instagram boutiques since her secondary school days. She has been a customer of online boutiques for over five years.

She started preparation work with her partner for their online store in May after their last school term had ended and invested around HK$10,000 in their business. Now they have over 1,400 followers on Instagram since they launched their business in July. 

But not everything goes well for Yeung and her partner. They sometimes have different views about how to advertise and market their products and it takes them some time to settle their differences.

They take reference from other competitors and conduct trial and error. For example, they try posting at different times to learn posting on Sundays can help gain more traffic.

Kwong runs both a physical and online store as her full-time career.

Eva Kwong is also a graduate of the class of 2020. She runs an online store Gem Palace selling crystals on Instagram. 

When Kwong was a secondary school student, she had one online shop selling accessories but it did not work well. She believes that her failing experience has helped her succeed this time around. 

“I thought job hunting might not go well in the current situation of the pandemic so I build my career by expanding my business,” she says. 

“I thought job hunting might not go well in the current situation of the pandemic so I build my career by expanding my business.”

Kwong says starting an online shop is like a stepping stone that helps her set up a physical shop in Kwun Tong in April 2020.

“The financial cost of starting a retail store is three to four times more than an online business,” Kwong says. The profit from her online business was channelled into investing in her physical store.

Unlike many other businesses, Kwong’s business benefits from the pandemic. “More people are buying crystals due to the pandemic. Crystals can help people, as they counteract negatives brought by the pandemic,” Kwong explains. 

“E-commerce has benefited from the pandemic,” says Tim Chan, founder of Growth Marketer Academy.

“But it still depends on product categories. Luxuries and cosmetics are having a much tougher time compared to household products which are experiencing a growth in sales volume,” Chan adds.

He points out marketing products is a challenge for business owners. Many e-commerce starters rely on doing advertisement to market their products.

“Many think advertisements are the most important factor in converting traffic to sales. New entrepreneurs usually misunderstand that posting social media advertisements is the only way to market their products,” he says.

Source: The Census and Statistics Department
Participants learn growth marketing through running an e-commerce store.
(Photo Courtesy of Growth Marketer Academy)

Joy Yu, founder of Swag Hair, is one of those who understands it is important for her store to have its own website so that she can have more control over advertisement, promotion and other features on her website.

The 25-year-old started her online store selling hair products in 2015. She started by using Facebook but later switched to her own website. 

She creates videos and blog posts to educate her audience about hair products. This helps her gain another source of income. During the pandemic, logistics service has been affected.

“I was able to make money through making videos during the pandemic. My videos have more views, as everyone is spending more time at home during the pandemic,” Yu says. 

After graduating in 2017, Yu opened a physical Swag Hair store. But the store closed down after a year. She then started focusing on creating marketing content for her business. It brings her more profit than the physical store.

Dominic Chan, associate professor of practice in entrepreneurship at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says e-commerce is a great way to start a business, as the cost is low.

“E-commerce platforms are mature. The cost to start an online business is low, so anyone can join the market. But this also means that there is great competition. Expanding business to a large-scale is difficult unless your product is unique,” Chan adds. 

“The cost to start an online business is low, so anyone can join the market.”

“Parents will be more open to the idea of having their children doing online business start-up because of poor career prospects in the job market due to the pandemic,” Chan says.