Chinatown steps into the digital world

Last updated: 09 April 2021

Published on: 08 April 2021

By Ryan Arcadio

With its unique architecture, mouth-watering delicacies and a rich history that dates back over two centuries, a visit to Singapore’s Chinatown is rarely a short one. From visiting the colourful temples that dot the precinct to gorging on some of the country’s best food—including the world’s cheapest Michelin starred meal—there’s always something new to check out in Chinatown.

Despite its vibrancy, even the precinct was unable to dodge the shock of COVID-19. As most businesses in Chinatown traditionally relied on walk-in customers, many shops have struggled to adapt to the drastic drop in tourist footfall.

To enable the precinct’s continued evolution, the Chinatown Digitalisation Committee launched new digital initiatives to help businesses connect with customers in new ways online on 24 March 2021. Similar digitalisation initiatives have also been carried out in other cultural precincts, including Little India and Kampong Gelam since 2018.

The committee, which is led by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and supported by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and Chinatown Business Association (CBA), has appointed restaurant reservation platform Chope and rising e-commerce marketplace Qoo10 to support the efforts of digitalisation and new experiences to the precinct. 

“Chinatown has evolved over the years into a vibrant business community, with unique cultural offerings,” shared Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, Ms Sim Ann during the launch event. 

“In 2014, Chinatown was the first cultural precinct to offer free street-level WiFi service for visitors. Today’s launch in Chinatown marks the first step in our digitalisation journey, by supporting our Chinatown businesses come on board Chope’s and Qoo10’s platforms, helping our cultural precincts evolve with the times, even while preserving our heritage..” Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, Ms Sim Ann

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A Qoo10 representative shows SMS Ms Sim Ann and MOS Ms Low Yen Ling how Qoo10’s digitalisation initiatives can benefit Chinatown businesses. (Photo credit: MCI)

A win-win for both businesses and customers

Through the initiative, Chope and Qoo10 will teach onboarded Chinatown merchants how to build a strong digital presence, reach new customers online and draw them into their physical stores too.

Chope, for instance, will curate a collection of the best dining deals in Chinatown. These deals not only include cash vouchers and 1-for-1 promotions, but also buffets and set meal bundles to attract locals to dine and immerse themselves in the precinct’s rich gastronomical heritage. Aside from F&B, Chope will also feature Chinatown hotels in its heavily discounted Dine & Stay bundled staycation deals. With such attractive packages, it is hoped that locals will spend more time exploring the precinct’s many offerings.

Taking inspiration from popular location-based mobile games, Qoo10 is gamifying the Chinatown experience—inviting visitors to hunt for themed virtual monsters planted within the precinct and redeem their catch as vouchers at partner stores. Free weekly EDMs from Qoo10 featuring Chinatown businesses and the possibility of in-store pickups aim to drive online customers to the brick-and-mortar boutiques in the precinct.

Digital steps in the right direction

While the initiatives have just been launched, Chinatown businesses are already optimistic that their journey into the digital sphere will only become smoother in the months to come. 

Consider Hong Kong-style eatery Joy Luck Teahouse, which typically sells their popular milk teas and egg tarts in their physical branches. With their recent foray onto the Qoo10 platform, founder Mr Robert Chua hopes to drive crowds to their Chinatown branch as they catch virtual monsters, purchase on the platform and collect their order at Joy Luck Teahouse.

Meanwhile, the classic coffee shop Nanyang Old Coffee has recently picked up their digital efforts. Aside from online presences on Facebook and Instagram, their products are also now available on platforms like Chope and Shopee. With Nanyang Old Coffee’s onboarding onto Chope’s platform, founder Mr Lim Eng Lam looks forward to attracting younger customers and increasing the shop’s overall reach.

“The pandemic forced us to innovate. In the past, we never really thought of digitalisation.” Mr Lim, founder of Nanyang Old Coffee

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Thye Shan Medical Hall has a presence on various online marketplaces and is active on Facebook and Instagram as well, proving that it’s never too late to go digital.

As for Thye Shan Medical Hall, the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacy is eager to boost its digital presence on e-commerce marketplaces like Qoo10. “Now we are putting in effort into digital marketing, because that’s a whole ball game on its own.” shared Ms Chan Mei Yi, general manager of Thye Shan Medical Hall.  “Where traditional trade is concerned, customers tend to ask a lot of questions. We’ll have to provide a more immersive experience for them so that they feel very comfortable buying online,” she added.

Traditional stores, new tricks

Along with the new initiatives headed by Chope and Qoo10, ESG and the SCCCI have also teamed up to establish the SME Centre@Chinatown at Chinatown Point. The 12th SME Centre on the island, and the third one set up by SCCCI and ESG, the new hub will assist businesses as they digitalise and impart business advice on aspects like productivity, innovation, and internationalisation. 

“I encourage our Chinatown business to continue to keep an open mind and explore these digital solutions with our tech partners,” concluded SMS Ms Sim.

“Regardless of which stage your business is at in your digital journey, we invite you to speak with our business advisers at SME Centre who can assist in choosing the right digital solutions and planning for your company’s digital future.” SMS Ms Sim

With the precinct taking its first digital steps, it’s clear that even traditional stores can be taught new digital tricks. Visit Chope and Qoo10 to check out these sweet Chinatown deals—or better yet, head down to the precinct yourself for the full experience!

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