Heartland shops get a digital boost with new initiative to take them online

SINGAPORE – Residents of heartland areas are used to walking downstairs and buying goods from local “mom and pop” stores but soon they will be able to shop online for these products to help them cope with crowd control measures.

An initiative launched on Wednesday (May 27) will partner such shops with tech firms so they can get online as soon as possible.

The measure will be rolled out to 10 precincts by the end of the year, starting with Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi, where it aims to reach around 400 merchants.

Business owners will work with digital platforms ConnectUpz, Dei and Fave to implement a range of ready-to-use solutions, such as loyalty programmes and payment methods. They can also join online sales channels, depending on their stage of digitisation.

The initiative is being run by Enterprise Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Heartland Enterprise Centre, Singapore (HECS),

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat told a heartland enterprise seminar organised by the Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore (FMAS): “This Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the operating environment for enterprises and the nature of consumer spending, and things will not go back to how the situation was before the virus outbreak.

“Thus, besides helping merchants tide over the current challenges, we also need to make preparations for the new normal.”

He added that e-commerce platforms will not replace heartland shops but help supplement their income, especially in a world where they can no longer depend on crowds for business.

“The… effort to help our heartland enterprises is to enable them to adopt digital solutions as quickly as possible. And we know that many enterprises may not be familiar with the different technologies or the different packages. So we want to find a way to be able to help them so that we can scale up and speed up the adoption.”

Merchants in the three precincts can sign up for the initiative through the HECS website. Business advisers, together with the three partners, will provide personal consultations.

Upfront costs such as subscription fees will be waived for the first year for merchants.

Subsequent transaction fees will depend on sales volume and category of goods sold, for instance.

The three platforms can also help shop owners with a range of digital solutions, such as promotions, loyalty rewards programmes, online product listings and even low-cost cashless mobile payments.

“We feel that this can provide an additional channel for our heartland enterprises to reach new customers who may include (those) staying in the neighbourhood but also (those) from elsewhere,” Mr Chee said.

He cited Ms Elizabeth Lai, owner of E-Waves Fishbyte in Clementi West, who sells fishing equipment to customers as far away as Changi and Sentosa through her online platform.

She also has YouTube videos to teach people to use the equipment, as well as collaborations with fishing “influencers” who market her products.

Mr Chee added that while adopting technology can be costly initially, there will be subsequent savings in terms of manpower and time for instance.

“What we hope to do is to be able to speed up and scale up digitalisation because we see this as an important part of helping our businesses to stay relevant and to stay competitive, especially in the new environment where there will be a heightened focus on safety (and) there will be a shift in consumer preferences.”

He brought up the example of hardware shop Unidbox, which experienced a boost in sales because of e-commerce. Owner Wong Hing Kong went for digitalisation classes to learn new skills and brought his knowledge to his business.

Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, FMAS president and managing director of HECS said: “We… strongly urge the heartland retailers as well as the food and beverage joints to work with the Government to adapt, learn and move towards digitalisation, greater adoption of technology to improve work flow and e-payment platforms to grow their business further for the long term.”

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