Heartland businesses key part of Singapore's social network: President Halimah Yacob

The Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore has set a target of having 70 per cent of the hawkers and heartland retailers it represents digitalise by June 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Heartland businesses are a key part of Singapore's social network and it is important for them to transform and continue being part of this ecosystem, said President Halimah Yacob on Friday (Oct 23).

Speaking to the media after a dialogue with the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS), she said that Singapore would not be the same without heartland enterprises.

"They add vibrancy and dynamism to our society, and are extremely accessible.

"No matter how accessible shopping centres are, there's nothing that beats the accessibility of neighbourhood hawkers and... grocery shops," Madam Halimah said, adding that these enterprises also provide access to affordable food to the majority of Singaporeans.

She acknowledged that the challenge for them is how to adapt to grow, but Madam Halimah was heartened to hear that FMAS has been preparing its members in this regard.

In particular, it has set a target of having 70 per cent of the hawkers and heartland retailers it represents digitalise by June 2021. FMAS represents about 16,000 hawkers and 17,000 retailers across Singapore.

As part of its efforts to drive digitalisation among heartland businesses, FMAS has organised 25 webinars on topics such as e-commerce and advertising over the past six months.

During the dialogue, FMAS members highlighted the challenges which heartland businesses are facing.

Some of these are more longstanding, such as a manpower crunch and competition from e-commerce and online retailers, while others have surfaced more recently and are associated with adopting digital processes.

President Halimah Yacob and Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, president of The Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore), speaking at a dialogue with FMAS members in Joo Chiat on Oct 23, 2020. At the meeting, members highlighted the challenges that heartland businesses are facing. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, president of the FMAS, noted the difficulties that heartland businesses face in hiring, especially with well-educated young people unwilling to take up jobs in the hawker centres.

Chairman of the FMAS hawker division Anthony Low said that the main challenge for hawkers in adopting e-payment processes is the lack of knowledge and unfamiliarity with mobile applications.

"For older hawkers, many of them prefer to receive cash rather than digital payments, as they feel more assured receiving the money in person," he said.

Elaborating, Mr Low added: "Some of the older hawkers did not even have Internet banking accounts, while others were not aware that there are mobile apps you can use to see if payments have gone through."

But he added that there has been an uptick in e-payment adoption over the past few months, with incentives such as the those provided under the Hawkers Go Digital programme proving to be a good encouragement to get stallholders on board cashless payments.

There are still some teething problems, he said.

Some stallholders have been scammed by errant customers who show screenshots of old e-payment transactions to trick the hawkers into thinking that payments have been made.

Addressing this, Madam Halimah said that government agencies such as the Infocomm Media Development Authority and Enterprise Singapore will help hawkers deal with such issues, but added that it is something that can be overcome.

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