The Italian Job

by Victor Chen
03 May 2021

Giacomo Marabiso of ICCS shares that the decision to shift their focus to online initiatives was the secret to supporting Italian SMEs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

At its worst, it was unfortunate to see the devastation COVID-19 brought to certain countries. Italy was, at one point, the worst hit European nation and its death rate even surpassed China’s. What followed was a nationwide lockdown, transforming the vibrant country into a literal ghost town.

The closure of retail spaces to prevent further infections, as well as of borders around the world, meant that businesses everywhere had to adapt in order to do things differently, and ultimately, survive. In Singapore, the Italian Chamber of Commerce (ICCS), a nonprofit association, kickstarted an online initiative in August 2020 to foster and strengthen the economic, commercial, and industrial relations between Singapore and Italy.

To get things started, ICCS partnered and engaged the help of popular online platforms, such as Lazada, NTUC Fair Price, RedMart, and Shopee to create the Italian Gallery Singapore. The program's ultimate goal is to help sustain brand presence for Italian companies under the ICCS umbrella in Singapore and other markets around the region, as well as promote the "Made in Italy" distinction. Sharing more about this initiative is Giacomo Marabiso, Managing Director of ICCS.

How many businesses entities are part of this e-commerce initiative to date?
Today we have over 30 Italian companies on board, ranging from food and beverage to the furniture sector.

Did they have to pay in order to get on the program? If so, how much and was it a one-time fee?
Yes, the company has to pay a fee, which includes different services, such as shipping, warehousing, as well as the marketing promotion.

Have you assessed how the program has performed since?
The concept of the Italian Gallery Singapore is to be an incubator for Italian companies and we are happy to share that the program is going well to date. Based on the performance of the products, we are better able to understand the taste and the preferences of our clients.

Thanks to our presence in four different e-commerce platforms, we are able to segment the consumer behavior, as well as adapt the product offers and the marketing activities.  

Have you received any feedback on the efficacy of the program?
Even though the Italian Gallery Singapore is a new project, the feedback we’ve received from our partners and clients are consistently positive. Because of this initiative, a good number of Italian companies were able to start selling in Singapore for the first time, and this truly is the best way to support the SMEs during this challenging period.

During lockdowns, did you launch other initiatives to help your members sustain their business viability? If so, what were they?
In order to support these companies in the right way, we differentiate the activities for our members based in Singapore versus the ones in Italy. For our members based in Singapore, we increased the activities of our committees and organized over 70 webinars on various topics.

In coordination with the Embassy of Italy in Singapore, we activated a direct dialogue with the Singaporean Institutions regarding the business travel bubbles and the opportunities for our members to travel in the Region for business purposes.

For the Italian companies, as a part of the Italian Gallery Project, we helped organize business-to-business meetings with potential partners through Zoom Conferencing, with a special focus on the design and machinery sectors.

What is currently in the pipeline? Do you plan to launch other similar programs?
For now, our main focus is to improve and expand the Italian Gallery. Very soon we will look to expand our products range and in the first semester of 2021, we will start to approach other markets in the region as well.