Hawkers worry about costs of hopping on to online delivery platforms

Food delivery platforms may not be the easy answer to solve the current woes faced by hawkers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many are worried that the costs of hopping on to online food delivery platforms would eat into their already-thin profit margins.

Onboarding costs and commission fees could force them to pick between keeping their food affordable and marking up prices to tide themselves through tightened restrictions, hawkers told The Straits Times. The commission cost can be about 30 per cent of a food order.

But the Government will be giving more help to get hawkers on to delivery platforms.

Minister of State for Communications and Information and National Development Tan Kiat How has been tasked to help hawkers get on to the platforms. Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor will work with him to recruit partners.

The Government has offered incentives for hawkers to adopt food delivery services. For instance, over 1,300 hawkers have taken up the National Environment Agency's (NEA) grant of $500 to do so.

Some food delivery firms are also chipping in during this period. Foodpanda has waived its onboarding fee for new vendors, as well as commission on delivery orders from hawkers operating in NEA-managed centres. Grab is extending full commission rebates on food orders to its partners in centres managed by NEA and town councils.

Hawkers are concerned about the sustainability of help schemes.

Mr Lee Syafiq, owner of burger chain Ashes Burnnit, said around 60 per cent of his customers now order through delivery platforms, up from 30 per cent previously. However, even the increase in delivery orders cannot make up for the drop in walk-ins across his three outlets.

Mr Sherwin Lim, who co-owns hot-plate and Western grill hawker stall Daburu, believes government subsidies may not help in the long run. The stall is on Deliveroo.

Mr Lim, 32, suggested a "greatly reduced or zero commission charged to hawkers, or other stakeholders such as consumers pay slightly more", and enabling group buys, where customers order large quantities so the volume makes up for low margins.

  • Background Story

  • 1 KopiRun app

    People on a coffee or grocery run can organise a group buy on an app, so that others can add in their orders for a delivery fee.

    2 WhyQ app

    A food delivery service app that offers delivery of hawker food at a low price.

    Users can also place orders from multiple stalls at the same hawker centre.

    3 Help Our Hawkers map

    To support hawkers who are digitally disadvantaged, such as those who are elderly or illiterate, a list of over 200 hawker stalls on a Google map has been created by users on Reddit. This can help people who want to support digitally disadvantaged hawkers located near them.

    People can also contribute new stalls to the map.

    Go to bit.ly/hawker-help-map

    4 Bungkus SG

    A delivery platform for food establishments that are halal-certified or 100 per cent Muslim-owned. The initiative was started to support the Muslim community as many of their favourite restaurants did not previously offer islandwide delivery.

    Deliveries are from 9.30am to 9.30pm, with a minimum order of $7.

    5 Instagram page @wheretodapao

    An Instagram page is dedicated to raising awareness of food stalls run by elderly hawkers, to give their business a boost amid phase two (heightened alert), which began on May 16.

    Each post features a hawker stall with a description of the stall owners and the type of food that they sell.

    Some posts are contributed by fans of the stalls.

Mr Melvin Chew, 43, founder of Facebook group Hawkers United - Dabao 2020, said after paying off the commission and other costs, hawkers could earn as little as 50 cents for a $3 to $4 dish.

"If you mark up the price, then it is up to the customers whether they still want to support you," said Mr Chew, who runs Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck and Kway Chap stall.

Mr K.F. Seetoh, founder of food guide Makansutra, said: "There are people like hawkers and small retailers who cannot go digital for reasons such as viability, and they will be left behind." He added that one-off grants will not help much as the problem will persist.

Customers contacted are willing to pay more for the convenience of hawker fare delivered. When asked how much more, most gave the range of between $2 and $4.

"If the difference is small, I don't mind," said administrative manager Gordon Sim, 33, who orders food online five times a week.

"But I wouldn't pay $10 for a plate of chicken rice. It just isn't wallet-friendly for hawker fare."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2021, with the headline 'Hawkers worry about costs of hopping on to online delivery platforms'. Subscribe