Minister for Communications and Information, Mr S. Iswaran (front row, fourth from right), with IMDA staff and partners in the Kampong Glam project.(Photo: MCI)
Kampong Glam MOI signing: (From left) Mr Tan Kiat How, IMDA Chief Executive; Minister for Communications and Information, Mr S. Iswaran; Mr Peter Lam, Temasek Polytechnic Principal and CEO; Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Special Advisor to the Kampong Glam digital transformation project; and Mr Saeid Labbafi, Chairman of OKG. (Photo: MCI)
By Janice Lin
Mention Kampong Glam and what comes to mind is the image of Malay fabric shops, Persian rug stores, Turkish restaurants and indie stores selling everything from clothes to homewares and other knick-knacks.
What doesn’t exactly come to mind is “tech-savvy”, but a new project aims to transform this traditional retail and heritage site to exactly just that.
Led by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), in partnership with Enterprise Singapore, One Kampong Gelam (OKG) association and the Singapore Malay Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the project will strengthen the digital capabilities of merchants in the neighbourhood, as well as enhance the visitor experience of this tourist hotpot.
The aim is to improve the discoverability and productivity of shops, make shopping more convenient and boost the neighbourhood’s appeal to a new generation of connected local and overseas visitors.
The effort will help keep the Kampong Glam heritage alive, by giving companies the ability to survive amid a changing retail landscape where shopping is mostly done online.
Digital technology goes hand-in-hand with traditional businesses in the Kampong Glam project.
“Kampong Glam is a neighbourhood close to many Singaporeans’ hearts, with a rich blend of rich history and culture, as well as modern retail shops and contemporary eateries. Strengthening our digital presence helps our merchants better connect to a younger generation of locals, as well as overseas visitors, to give them a chance to experience our unique mix of retail experiences and cultural heritage,” said OKG chairman Saeid Labbafi.
Digital retail transformation
About 150 retail and food and beverage merchants have so far come on board the project, which is also part of an industry-wide effort, first announced in November 2017, to support transformation of the retail industry.
If successful, the plan will see Kampong Glam transformed into the first digitally enabled heritage site and retail neighbourhood in Singapore.
Five initiatives are being rolled out in this first phase, which range from merchants offering digital payments at shops, to shops getting listed on digital maps to boost their online presence, the launch of an augmented reality (AR) tool for navigation and marketing, delivery services for shopper convenience and a point-of-sale (POS) system for merchants that integrates inventory management, accounting and customer relations.
Cashless payments are on the way.
IMDA and OKG have established partnerships with Grab, which will offer GrabPay as a form of cashless payment; Temasek Polytechnic (TP), whose students will work on enhancing merchants’ discoverability on Google Maps; LDR Technology, which will work on an AR-enabled mobile app to help visitors better navigate the neighbourhood; Riverwood Integrated Logistics Solutions for delivery of shoppers’ purchases; and Starhub, which will offer an integrated POS to merchants.
And it doesn’t just stop here.
A second phase is scheduled to begin by mid-2019, and could include features such as outdoor Wi-Fi, smart signage to help visitors navigate the neighbourhood and e-commerce platforms for merchants.
Speaking at the signing of a memorandum of intent between IMDA, OKG and TP, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran called this digitisation project “a very important initiative”, adding: “It is a symbol of what we're trying to do across all of Singapore. Digitalisation is the way of the future, and we want to make sure all our enterprises, big or small, whatever the sector, are all on this journey, so that they can become more competitive, more productive and access a wider marketplace.”
Check out this video on how one restaurant in Kampong Glam, Tash Tish Tosh, managed to improve productivity through the clever adoption of digital tech.
Helping heritage stores
Merchants in the Kampong Glam agree that it is vital that the neighbourhood makes the move to digitalise, especially given the slowly dwindling visitor numbers and the rising popularity of online shopping.
In particular, heritage stores selling rugs and fabrics, most of which do not have any online presence, are at risk of losing out.
"More than 50 per cent of our sales are from tourists, which means we lose them once they go back to their country. Many of them want to order online, but we don’t have an e-commerce store,” said Mr Samir Kazura, who is the third-generation owner of traditional perfumery Jamal Kazura Aromatics.
With the implementation of an integrated POS system, Jamal Kazura Aromatics, which was established in the 1930s and is one of the longest-running businesses in Kampong Glam, has been able to offer its customers a digital membership and loyalty programme. By doing so, the system helps the store retain customers and keep customers informed about new products.
Given its slowly increasing clientele, Jamal Kazura Aromatics intends to roll out its e-commerce site by the end of the year.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Special Advisor to the Kampong Glam digital transformation project (left), chatting with Mr Saeid Labbafi, Chairman of OKG, during a tour of the various technology trials at Kampong Glam.
But it’s not just about customer retention; many Kampong Glam merchants say it’s also about discoverability – helping visitors find their way around the neighbourhood to their stores.
To tackle this, local software firm LDR Technology has come on board by offering a Kampong Glam walking trail on its Locomole mobile application. But what sets this app apart from Google Maps or Yelp is its use of AR technology to not only guide visitors to and around the neighbourhood, suggesting places to eat and shops to visit, but also allow them to learn about its rich heritage.
“Locomole shows people around in a very unique way,” said LDR Technology Deputy CEO Ong Yu Lin. “We tell stories about the place in order to give the user a complete and unique experience (of the neighbourhood).”
By integrating culture and heritage with technology, Mr Ong hopes Locomole will help generate a new buzz about the neighbourhood.
“It's a good way to attract the younger generation, who are extremely tech savvy, and we do have very interesting stories to tell about this place. There are Chinatowns in almost every city, but there is only one Kampong Glam in the world.”
Photo credit for teaser image: Sultan Mosque at night, Kampong Glam, Singapore by Edwin Soo licensed under CC By 2.0.