Hawkers go digital during Covid-19 circuit breaker

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With the ban on dining out, hawkers have been relying on takeaways and deliveries to survive. Many are using social media and messaging apps to reach out to customers.

SINGAPORE - Many hawkers find themselves struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With the ban on dining out during the circuit breaker period, local food vendors have been relying on takeaways and deliveries to survive.

Those who work with food delivery platforms such as GrabFood, Deliveroo and Foodpanda say they pay an average of 30 to 35 per cent commission for each order.

The high fees have led some to search for alternative options.

Mr Melvin Chew, 42, owner of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck and Kway Chap at Chinatown Food Complex, started a Facebook group in April to help fellow hawkers during the circuit breaker.

Hawkers United-Dabao 2020 now has over 260,000 members.

"Many of the hawkers suffered income losses from about 70 to 90 per cent. I started this group to gather all the hawkers (and) bring in some customers from my Facebook friend list so that hawkers can look for business in this group," said Mr Chew.

Mr Quentin Quek, 22, whose mother owns Hougang 684 BBQ Hawker, said selling directly to customers has helped improve business. After posting on social media, the number of orders has gone up by 20 to 30 per cent.

"When the circuit breaker started, my mother's business was super bad. She kept ranting to me every day so I had no choice but to find a solution. I decided to post in this group and see how it goes. Suddenly, we saw an increase in sales so it is actually working," said Mr Quek.

For the less tech-savvy, embracing technology can be challenging.

Mr Youmin Kim, 34, a software engineer at Facebook, decided to help. He created a WhatsApp order form to make it easier for businesses to receive orders.

"Some shops are receiving a lot of messages but they don't have much time to handle them. So I thought to myself, maybe I can create an order form which is very easy to start. It shouldn't be on Google because all these uncles and aunties are so used to using WhatsApp. My goal is to make a form that is similar to Google form but it stays in WhatsApp," Mr Kim said.

Known as Take.sg, Mr Kim's personal project has been adopted by more than 230 hawkers since its launch in early April.

With feedback from hawkers, Mr Kim also added new features such as a distance calculator so that stall owners can easily quote their delivery price to customers.

"I didn't expect the immediate response. They understood immediately what this was for and they started changing their behaviour. Previously, they only provided their phone number in their Facebook posts but now they have also included the Whatsapp order form. I think it was a really big moment for me. I was surprised that this is helping shop owners immediately," he said.

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