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Retail sector to get a digital makeover

Retail sector to get a digital makeover

The new Retail Industry Digital Plan (IDP) for SMEs and other initiatives aim to rejuvenate Singapore’s retail scene.

Digital Economy Launch IMDA
(From left) Mr Simon Lim, Group Director, Partnerships & Incentives, SPRING; Mr Shamir Rahim, President, Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SMCCI); Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim; Mr Saied Labbafi, Chairman, One Kampong Gelam; and Mr Tan Kiat How, IMDA CEO.
Digital Economy Launch IMDA
Eager visitors checking out retail tech demonstrations at IMDA's first-year anniversary event on 3 November 2017.

By Judith Tan


Retail is an important industry in Singapore, but it has been struggling in recent years, largely due to the economic slowdown, declining store sales, and e-commerce competition.

To rejuvenate the sector — made up of about 22,000 establishments and employs approximately three per cent of the total workforce in the country — the Government rolled out the Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM) in 2016.

The Retail ITM envisions a vibrant retail sector in Singapore. It contains key strategies to support sector transformation, including a focus on adopting new technologies to drive productivity.

Recently on 3 November, a Retail Industry Digital Plan (IDP) for SMEs was launched to help such businesses meet the productivity and innovative goals of the Retail ITM. Developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), in partnership with SPRING Singapore, the Retail IDP provides step-by-step advice for SME retailers in their digitalisation journey.

Embracing digital technology

Kampung Glam
The Kampong Glam neighbourhood. (Photo: Erwin Soo)

Mr Mohd Zain Said, the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI)’s SME centre director, said SMEs need to automate so they can do more with fewer staff. “It's the only way to meet the new demand and expectation of customers,” he added.

Merchants at Kampong Glam, where visitor numbers are falling, agreed that the move to automate is critical amid the rising popularity of online shopping.

Ms Sherry See, owner of Utopia Apparels along Bussorah Street, said Kampong Glam merchants need help to make them more "discoverable" via an online directory, as the number of visitors to Kampong Glam has declined by up to 40 per cent over the last 10 years. “Many shoppers do not venture beyond Arab Street or Haji Lane,” she added.

Ms See, who is also a member of the One Kampong Gelam neighbourhood association, said discussions to adopt digital technology have been going on “for a few months”.

“We have also conducted a survey with 120 merchants in the district and the results were really positive. Many are ready to embrace digital technology,” she said.

Enhancing retail experiences across the ecosystem

The Malay enclave has been identified as one of the first of many neighbourhoods that will undergo a digital makeover under the Retail ITM.

Retail IDP
IMDA will explore the use of digital technologies to help SMEs personalise and enrich the retail experience.

To help retailers like Ms See personalise and enrich shopping experiences, IMDA will explore using digital technologies such as sensors, robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Additionally, the unique selling points of an area, such as its cultural heritage, will be incorporated into digital solutions to raise the profile of the shops in that area. Such solutions will also be rolled out for malls and neighbourhoods.

Retailers may also be able to use heat maps to track an area’s foot traffic and gain a better understanding of spots that are best for catching a shopper’s attention.

In announcing the move at IMDA’s first-year anniversary celebrations, Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said that when completed, Kampong Glam would be an interesting showcase that interweaves tradition and digital technologies.

To complete Kampong Glam’s digital makeover, IMDA and SPRING have signed a memorandum of intent with SMCCI and One Kampong Gelam neighbourhood association to jointly identify technologies that could lift the appeal of the area, through creating a richer and more immersive retail experience.

The project is expected to produce positive outcomes by the second half of 2018.

Helping SME retailers digitalise

IMDA and SPRING are also working closely with the industry to create digital solutions to help traditional SME retailers digitalise their businesses, to extend their reach and grow their brands.

Digital Economy Launch IMDA
Expect to see stand-alone cash registers replaced by integrated point-of-sale systems.

These solutions will focus on creating better customer experiences in both online and offline retailing, through providing retailers with the digital capabilities to transact online, fulfil deliveries efficiently and stay competitive.

For instance, retailers can leverage IMDA’s pre-approved digital solutions to improve their operational efficiency. With the right technology, retailers can better manage their inventory and orders, both offline and online.

SMEs can also use the Retail IDP as a guide to assess their digital readiness and identify digitalisation opportunities, and recognise and fix skills gaps to support their digitalisation efforts. The guide provides a reference for digital solutions across three stages:

1) Getting digital economy ready
2) Growing in the digital economy
3) Leaping ahead

The first stage involves identifying ready-to-go digital solutions — such as e-payment and integrated point-of-sale systems — for retailers’ front-of-house and back-end operations. In the second stage, more advanced digital solutions like store layout optimisation and self-checkout systems will be introduced to capture new consumer markets.

The final stage involves integration with other digital platforms and harnessing data to make better business decisions.

On whether these solutions will be helpful for SME retailers, Ms See said: “The whole retail scene is changing, and now more so than ever we need technology, whether it be in terms of marketing, inventory control, engaging customers or even payments.”


Photo credit: An evening walk along Kampong Glam by Erwin Soo licensed under CC By 2.0



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