When the pandemic forced office workers to start working from home, some people may have realised early on that this arrangement was going to be the — pardon the overused term — “new normal”. Tired of squinting at 13-inch laptop screens, they have opted for bigger monitors to see their charts, documents, or spreadsheets better.

Some of these monitors can be a modest 24 inches, to ultrawide curved monitors spanning 49 inches, boasting 4K displays and looking like they came from the set of a science fiction movie.

One brand that might have caught some eyes in recent months is homegrown brand PRISM+. Founded in 2017, PRISM+ has built a reputation for its lower price points as compared to its competitors. From PC monitors and TVs, the company is now planning to expand to complementary accessories such as soundbars.

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From Singapore, the company has gone overseas to Malaysia and Australia, all in the span of just four years. How does PRISM+ do it, and what does it do differently?

In an interview with The Edge Singapore, PRISM+ managing director Jon Ng attributes its success to a combination of two factors: its business model, and the emphasis on what he calls “the customer experience”.

PRISM+ operates on a “direct to consumer” (D2C) business model, where the brand sells directly to the consumer, rather than through a distributor or electronics retailer such as Courts or Harvey Norman in Singapore. PRISM+ has no physical storefront, only an online one where customers can place their orders and make payment.

Ng says this is because when PRISM+ was founded, its founders saw “a gap” in the consumer electronics market.

“At the time, 144Hz monitors, gaming monitors, in general, were around $800, $900, as compared to today where [the prices] have fallen. We’d like to say that we played a big part in that for the consumers,” he says.

PRISM+’s founders observed that the middlemen, such as the stores and distributors, were taking a huge margin off the sales of these products, and realised that if they sold directly to consumers, they could pass on the savings to consumers, and make prices more competitive at the same time.

However, the concept of D2C was very foreign when PRISM+ first started out in 2017. "It wasn’t something that anyone would just jump into,” recalls Ng. For one, e-commerce platforms that offered tailored solutions to sellers like Lazada or Shopee were not as popular yet, and third-party logistics providers to fulfil orders such as Ninjavan were not as developed yet.

Without the middlemen, the company had to set up its own website to act as an online storefront, engage smaller logistics companies to fulfil its orders and figure out its own payment processing online.

Having to do without a physical storefront, the company also needed to get its brand out there. Ng says PRISM+ relied on quarterly trade shows, as well as digital marketing such as YouTube advertisements, to gain brand awareness and recognition.

However, the company was soon able to tap on one of the most valued marketing channels around: word of mouth, which Ng says played a huge part in getting the brand better known. “They [customers] get something really value for money, and it performs up to their expectations, then they will share it with their friends and family,” says Ng.

Customer experience

PRISM+ does not simply concentrate on getting customers, selling them a monitor, and moving on to the next customer. Ng explains the customer experience throughout the whole process is important, as this is a differentiating factor that sets PRISM+ apart.

The first thing the company focused on was the turnaround time. Ng notes that most brands would commonly take days, or even weeks, to get an order to the customer. PRISM+ cut that lag drastically. “In the old days, we used Lazada’s fulfilment centre, which allowed for next-day delivery at a premium cost. We opted for that because you can delight the customer,” he recalls.

Now, the company has its own delivery fleet, although it still does outsource “a smaller portion” of its deliveries. It also plans to expand its warehousing from the current 25,000 sq ft to 40,000 sq ft, so it has better control over delivery times and cost.

“A lot of things that the bigger brands outsource, they outsource at a huge cost — we try to do everything ourselves so that we have full control,” Ng says.

Even after closing the sale, PRISM+ continues to focus a lot on customer service as it is what drives the impression of the brand. “If you think about the brands that are well-known and have been around for years, they always start with great customer service, great customer retention, and people feel confident to buy their stuff. They know that the company will always have their backs,” Ng highlights.

In Singapore, the company has 24/7 customer support and over 50 customer service agents just for the country. Queries from customers are handled in-house, regardless of their location, unlike other brands which might just rely on the distributor to handle their customer service requests.

Ng says: “When a customer [calls] us, they’re not going to talk to someone at a distributor, working for a different company who may have different motives. For example, different brands have different models they can earn more from, so they will push that unit.”

The company also strives to resolve issues on the same day or by the next day, he adds, and also helps customers to resolve incompatibility issues with their other accessories. For example, if a customer has a PRISM+ monitor, but a soundbar of a different brand, Ng says the company will “go out of our way to help them resolve incompatibility issues, even when it may not be our product”.

This approach has borne results for the company. PRISM+ has experienced “multifold growth” over the course of 2020, reveals Ng, partly due to the pandemic-fuelled demand for electronics. He declines to reveal specific numbers but clarifies that it was “hard to tell how much [the growth] is due to Covid, how much is due to the fact that we launched TVs”.

From 24 to 86 inches

One driving factor behind the growth is PRISM+’s new TV product line. PRISM+ now offers TVs ranging from 32-inch sets to 86-inch giants that can display 4K content without breaking a sweat.

TVs now make up 60% of the company’s revenue, and Ng estimates that the TV segment grew about 400%–500% in revenue in 2020 alone.

PRISM+’s TVs business was officially launched in December 2019, but Ng says the segment really took off in 2020, describing it as it a “crazy” year.

But it was not a smooth journey. Ng says while it seemed like the company was well-positioned to capitalise on the pandemic, it “had to move mountains” to satisfy customer orders.

Due to the lockdowns in China in the early part of 2020, the company faced shortages in the supply of not only electronic parts but also shipping containers, affecting the ability to get its finished products here. This led to extended lead times for customers, which Ng acknowledges as “not ideal”.

He explains that there was a lot of demand for TVs when the pandemic hit, but as production times were long, the company did not immediately manage to capitalise on the pent-up demand. It was only two to three months later when PRISM+ had secured pre-orders and stocks began to come through, that the company managed to capture “a bit more [sales] than the other players”, according to Ng.

The demand was so strong that the company staff was “pushed to the brink”, recalls Ng. “Not just customer service, but logistics as well, making sure that the goods reach the customers,” he adds. The company grew from a team of just 20 people before Covid-19, to almost 100 people currently.

Overseas ventures

With such phenomenal growth in 2020, PRISM+ has ventured beyond this sunny island to two more markets, Malaysia and Australia, in 2021. Ng had hoped to complete the expansion by this year, but supply woes from the global semiconductor shortage meant that the Australian expansion had to be “taken a bit slower”.

In Malaysia, however, the company has managed to grow sales to a quarter of Singapore’s volume. Ng says that in Malaysia, “we went in thinking that we have to sell the entry-level models, which was what everyone was doing. No one could move premium models”.

But the Malaysian audience was surprisingly receptive to PRISM+’s premium offerings. “When we made premium models available online, people started to buy our stuff and we were the only people really having this premium assortment,” he says. The company also made 24/7 customer service available for its Malaysian customers to enhance its attractiveness.

Looking ahead, Ng reveals that PRISM+ is planning to penetrate into more overseas markets, and launch more products, including soundbars to go with its TVs. However, he declines to provide more details. In the meantime, thousands of PRISM+ customers are enjoying a better working-from home and TV-viewing experience.