New work group to help Singapore's hawkers go digital

Staff of food delivery platform WhyQ organising orders placed on the app before handing them to delivery riders at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre on June 15, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - To tackle the pain points faced by hawkers looking to go digital, a new work group has been formed, with three key areas identified for possible solutions.

These include offering education and support to hawkers to help them get onto online platforms, coming up with a sustainable business model for delivery platforms, and increasing the demand for online delivery of hawker food.

The work group, known as the SG Together Alliance for Action - Online Ordering for Hawkers, held its first round of discussions on Thursday (June 17).

It aims to help hawkers tap food delivery platforms to ensure they are sustainable in the long run.

Partners in the work group include 10 members from food delivery platforms Bungkus, Deliveroo, Foodpanda, Grab, Oddle and WhyQ; 10 hawker representatives; representatives from Instagram page WheretoDabao and the Telegram bot SaveTheHawkersBot, and The Straits Times associate editor Chua Mui Hoong.

Ms Chua had published an opinion piece on June 4 titled "Hawkers United - But Where's The Coordination?", where she urged the regulatory agencies and big food delivery players to provide long-term support for hawkers to go digital.

The work group will be chaired by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment and the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday after the virtual dialogue, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said the first round of discussions had been fruitful.

She said challenges that hawkers face include the lack of tech savviness, their struggle to handle both online and offline orders, not knowing how to market their food or menus online, and the affordability of onboarding and commission fees on food delivery platforms.

Reiterating that the trend of online food delivery is likely to continue even beyond the pandemic, Dr Khor said: "There is really a need to support our hawkers in tapping on digital platforms... to supplement their business and to expand their customer base."

The work group will focus on three areas in the coming months. The first will be in supporting hawkers, said Minister of State for Communications and Information and National Development Tan Kiat How.

This could mean helping those less familiar with technology or may need extra assistance to take online orders, for instance.

He said better organisation is required within hawker centres to coordinate delivery orders, such as by using a hybrid model, where someone is physically present at the hawker centre to coordinate customer orders placed via an app.

He added that bundling orders from different stores is also necessary, and can help reduce the cost of delivery when done well and efficiently.

To ensure that the current business model is sustainable, he said it is important to think about the commissions charged by food delivery platforms, which include the fees paid to delivery riders.

Hawkers must also receive their payouts immediately so that they can pay for supplies, and the price of hawker food charged to the consumer must be sustainable, he added.

The work group also has to think of ways to increase demand for hawker food deliveries, said Mr Tan.

This can be done by raising awareness of the food delivery platforms and hawker stalls on these platforms, and by marketing to the surrounding workplaces and housing estates, for example.

Mr Anthony Low, chairman of the hawkers division of the Federation of Merchants' Association Singapore, agreed that it is helpful for hawkers to move onto delivery platforms.

He added that he has encouraged more hawkers to overcome their fear of using technology and to start having a social media presence in order to raise awareness of their business.

Halal food delivery app Bungkus has seen two to three times more hawker sign-ups amid this heightened alert period, said the firm's chief operating officer, Mr Baru Walia. Over a third of its 300 merchants are hawker stalls.

As its merchant base in a niche market is smaller, Bungkus can provide more personalised service, he said. For instance, merchants who are less tech savvy can communicate with Bungkus staff via WhatsApp to meet delivery orders.

"The merchants can notify us instantly if they missed out on any orders, or if their store is closed for the day, for instance," said Mr Baru.

"From there, we can then help them deactivate the store or go offline during that duration, which they find very helpful. They know that we will assist them and guide them through it, so they know there's nothing to fear with technology," he added.

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