SINGAPORE - Smaller businesses may be hit hard by the pandemic but they are strengthening their "defences" with e-payment methods and e-commerce solutions.
As at mid-November, more than 13,000 heartland merchants have adopted e-payment platforms, while more than 7,500 have embraced digital commerce solutions, since efforts were launched last year to help them keep pace with digitalisation.
The figures were shared by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, who was speaking at the seventh edition of the Singapore Heartland Enterprise Star Award ceremony, held at Chui Huay Lim Club on Monday (Dec 20).
As part of the Heartlands Go Digital programme which was launched in October last year, solutions tapped by such businesses include the development of e-commerce platforms, use of websites or social media to promote their offerings and engage customers, and diversification of their revenue stream via online channels.
The programme is led by Enterprise Singapore and the Heartland Digitalisation and Revitalisation Committee, which Ms Low co-chairs.
"Labour flows and supply chains were disrupted due to border closures and restrictions arising from safe management measures. These changes affected both large and small businesses, but smaller heartland businesses were especially affected," she said.
Ms Low added that it is heartening to see The Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS) and the Heartland Enterprise Centre Singapore (HECS) taking the initiative to help heartland businesses innovate and adapt their operating models.
"They have been spearheading efforts to encourage heartland merchants to adopt digital commerce solutions that are better suited to the consumers' ever-growing needs and demands, particularly the younger generation," she added.
Organised by the FMAS, the awards ceremony recognises achievements by heartland businesses, with 40 submitting entries to vie for honours.
"Initially, we only hoped to receive about 30 participating merchants, but we did not expect such enthusiastic response," said FMAS president Yeo Hiang Meng.
Awards for promising enterprises were given out across five categories, namely best visual merchandising, best customer service, most franchisable business, most innovative business and best marketer.
Hall of fame, heritage and luminary enterprise awards were also given out.
Among the winners is Chang Cheng Group, a 27-year-old company that operates more than 230 traditional mixed rice stalls and has adopted digital payment channels since 2017. They took home the operational excellence award under the luminary enterprise category.
Through a 30,000 sq ft central kitchen, it developed a structured system to optimise work processes, replace obsolete ones and automate manual procedures, in order to improve supply chain operations.
Said Ms Low: "Digitalisation and business transformation is a journey, and the Government is committed to support our heartland merchants in exploring new ways to grow their business.
"For enterprises that have yet to latch on to digital tools and other know-hows, they can always look to FMAS and HECS to understand what assistance they can receive."
For instance, the community development council voucher scheme, which allocates $100 worth of vouchers to every household, was developed with the FMAS.
Available for collection since Dec 13, and valid till Dec 31 next year, the vouchers can be collected digitally and can be spent at about 10,000 participating hawkers and heartland merchants.
Ms Low said that during the planning process, she told the Government Technology Agency to “streamline the process to no more than three steps, so that residents can have a good (voucher) claiming experience.”
“Christmas and Chinese New Year are fast approaching. We hope to encourage more Singaporeans to make good use of the vouchers to support our heartland merchants and hawkers, and boost the vibrancy of our HDB towns and neighbourhood centres,” she added.
As for residents who are not as digitally savvy, she said that assistance is available at community clubs or centres to guide residents on how to claim the vouchers, and that hard-copy vouchers can be printed if necessary.