Speech by Mr S Iswaran at the Singapore Retail Industry Conference

  • Date
    08 Sep 2017
  • In This Story

Mr R Dhinakaran, President, Singapore Retailers Association,

Council Members,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

1. I am very pleased to join you for the annual Singapore Retail Industry Conference (SRIC), organised by the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) and supported by SPRING. The SRIC is an important platform for retailers to gain insights into the best practices and trends in the Retail industry.

The Retail industry remains important to our economy

2. This year’s SRIC is significant as it coincides with SRA’s 40th anniversary. I would like to take this opportunity to commend and congratulate SRA on its achievements over the past 4 decades. This year’s SRIC also represents an important milestone in our industry transformation efforts, as it marks the first year since the launch of the Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM). The Retail ITM envisions an industry with a vibrant mix of highly-productive and omni-channel retailers, and local brand owners with global footprints, supported by a professional and skilled workforce. The theme of this year’s conference, “Retail Transformation – Embracing the Future of Retail”, is therefore particularly apt.

3. The retail industry is an important part of our economy. Last year, an estimated 23,000 retail establishments chalked up operating receipts estimated at $35 billion, and contributed 1.4% to Singapore’s GDP.1 I am pleased to see that for the latest Retail Sales Index in June 2017, operating receipts of the Retail Industry excluding motor vehicles was up 4% year-on-year.2

Good progress made since the launch of the Retail ITM

4. The industry has made encouraging progress in the past year. In terms of innovation, SPRING has worked with retailers to pilot new automated retail concepts, such as vending machine clusters and unmanned convenience stores. For example, in July 2017, Cheers launched its first unmanned and cashless convenience store in Nanyang Polytechnic, which also doubles up as a training facility for students specialising in retail.

5. In terms of productivity, many retailers in Singapore have implemented technology solutions to improve both their back-end and store-front processes. This is something any retailer can do regardless of size. In April this year, I visited Food-Joy, a mini-mart along South Buona Vista Road, which uses self-checkout facilities to better serve its customers. It has also adopted cash-management solutions that allow its staff to spend less time on cashier duties and focus more on customers and value adding responsibilities.

6. Many of our retailers have recognised the importance of the omni-channel model, and raised their capabilities in e-commerce and digital marketing to access global markets through digital channels. Charles & Keith observed that the proportion of hits on its website from mobile devices jumped from 20% to 55% between 2012 and 2015. The company therefore developed its own shopping app to better capture this growing market share. Today, Charles & Keith is able to offer a seamless omni-channel shopping experience through its app, website and physical stores, and ships to multiple destinations worldwide. SPRING has also been working with industry and solution partners to develop ready-to-go solutions focusing on critical digital capabilities, including inventory and platform management, as well as digital branding and marketing. These are available to our SMEs through the Tech Depot on the SME Portal.

7. In terms of up-skilling of our workers, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Workforce Singapore (WSG) and SPRING have jointly developed the Skills Framework for Retail, which was launched last month. It includes 174 existing and emerging skills and competencies that have been identified across 24 key job roles. These aim to develop the skills and abilities of retail staff, to form a strong core in a sector that prides itself on good service. For instance, last year, representatives from Aspial-Lee Hwa Jewellery attended a series of masterclasses jointly organised by SPRING and WSG on leveraging digital platforms to drive business expansion. The masterclasses were targeted at both the C-suite and executive levels. Participants like Aspial-Lee Hwa’s merchandising manager Cynthia Goh and assistant brand manager Natalia Yong picked up practical skills in web analytics, marketing automation, online advertising and search engine optimisation (SEO). The group has also implemented structured in-house training programmes, on topics ranging from customer service to product knowledge. These training initiatives have contributed to the launch of Aspial-Lee Hwa group’s e-commerce site for Goldheart, shop.goldheart.com.

Deepening industry capabilities and injecting greater vibrancy into the retail landscape

8. More initiatives have been planned to sustain the momentum of transformation in our retail industry, and continue the good work done so far. These will contribute to deepening industry capabilities and injecting greater vibrancy into the retail landscape.

Development of local brands and incubation of retail startups

9. One of the key strategies of the ITM is to help retailers build their own products and brands to internationalise and become global names. Design plays an important role in creating a unique brand identity and value proposition. It is therefore important to nurture a vibrant design community in Singapore to support the lifestyle cluster and strengthen the pipeline of local brands for internationalisation. To spearhead this effort, STB, SPRING and JTC are supporting the development of the Design Incubator to nurture local design talent and profile home-grown brands. The Design Incubator is slated to open in the heart of Orchard Road towards the end of 2018, and will house a retail showcase and incubation space under one roof. It will be operated by local retailer Naiise and provide local designers with a conducive space for product conceptualisation and development. It is expected to feature more than 60 local brands, ranging from fashion, lifestyle products, to souvenirs.

10. In a similar vein, I am happy to inform you that SPRING is working with department stores to explore the incubation of local and regional designers, to create even more avenues for the development of local brands. The department stores will serve as launchpads for local brands, building their business capabilities and providing opportunities for market access. For local designers, these will form a holistic package of mentorship on technical and operational capabilities, potential showcase opportunities of their designs in-store, and the opportunity to access overseas markets.

Launch of the Retail Centre of Excellence

11. Next month, retailers can also look forward to the launch of the Retail Centre of Excellence (RCoE). Hosted at the Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, the RCoE will join SRA and other industry partners, such as the Singapore Productivity Centre, as another resource that retailers can tap on, and position Singapore as a thought leader in retail in the Asia Pacific. The RCoE will partner retailers in addressing the gaps and challenges of the fast-changing retail landscape. To do so, it will adopt a three-pronged approach. First, the RCoE will conduct talent development and outreach programmes to groom leaders and executives for long term careers in the industry. Second, it will undertake retail-specific research to help the industry solve business challenges. Finally, it will build regional distinction in thought leadership through networking and knowledge sharing on common themes of interest.

Rejuvenation of Orchard Road

12. In partnership with the private sector, Government agencies are also actively studying how to enliven Orchard Road as a shopping and lifestyle destination and elevate its attractiveness. A Ministerial Steering Committee, which I co-chair with Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng, has been formed to drive the rejuvenation plans. Apart from the Design Incubator, other initiatives being planned include enhanced programming along the pedestrian malls, pop-up and permanent activations at available spaces, and enhanced walkability for the precinct. Shoppers can look forward to more initiatives like the 10-day “Star Wars: Experience the Force Singapore Festival” taking place now, featuring exciting pop-up experiences such as augmented and virtual reality experiences along Orchard Road.

13. Later this year, as part of the annual Christmas festival and Orchard Road light up, “Christmas on a Great Street”, the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) will also partner shopping malls in the precinct, and players like MasterCard, to attract shoppers to Orchard Road with rewards programmes.

Set-up of Enterprise Singapore to grow stronger Singapore Enterprises

14. Earlier this week, I announced the formation of Enterprise Singapore, which will build on the strengths of SPRING and IE to comprehensively support our enterprises in their efforts to innovate and internationalise. With a holistic approach to meet the needs of enterprises, Enterprise Singapore will put us in good stead to continue to drive industry transformation. SPRING has established a strong foundation in the retail industry by building and deepening enterprise capabilities in innovative retail formats, omni-channel strategies, strong design and branding to enhance competitiveness and grow. Tapping on IE’s overseas in-market networks and understanding of key markets, retailers may access an integrated suite of support to sharpen export strategies for their products and access more overseas market opportunities. Enterprise Singapore will integrate deep knowledge of the retail industry with the network of local and overseas partners, to comprehensively support our retail SMEs in their efforts to develop strong brands with international recognition.

Importance of TACs as multipliers

15. Many organisations, from both the public and private sectors, have been working hard to bring about the developments that the retail industry has achieved over the past year. To build a vibrant retail industry, we need close collaboration with stakeholders and key multipliers to spearhead important initiatives. In that regard, SRA has been an important partner in the retail transformation efforts for Singapore. As the lead association for the Retail industry, SRA has maintained active engagement of key retail industry players, locally and regionally, to identify competency gaps and address the capability needs of retailers. SRA has also rolled out initiatives such as its e-Commerce Accelerator Programme, which has already benefited 23 companies. For example, Home-Fix is in the midst of a project to revamp its eStore. Home-Fix’s Head of Marketing, Eugene Lim, attended SRA’s programme, which gave him the knowledge to develop a framework to plan an e-commerce strategy and operations for the company. Home-Fix now plans to build up its digital presence through search and performance marketing, relying on analytics to deliver results.

16. To enable SRA to better assist its members to seize opportunities in the new economy, I am glad to announce that SRA is embarking on a project under SPRING’s Local Enterprise and Association Development Plus (LEAD+) programme, to transform and upgrade its own capabilities. Through the LEAD+ project, SRA will transform digitally to enhance its engagement with its members and other industry players, and strengthen its secretariat capabilities. SRA will also undertake specific initiatives to drive the adoption of retail technologies and back-end solutions to enhance productivity and develop omni-channel capabilities among retailers. Some of these solutions could include in-store analytics and “endless aisle” solutions, where retailers can showcase their entire suite of products to shoppers without needing them to be stocked in-store.


17. One year into our transformation of the Retail industry, we have made notable progress. I am heartened to see many partners coming on board to offer their expertise to uplift the whole industry, with exciting developments for the sector. With the establishment of Enterprise Singapore to continue the good work of SPRING and IE in industry transformation, I look forward to deepening and extending the current partnerships as we seize new opportunities and build a vibrant future for our retail sector.

18. Let me end by again extending my heartiest congratulations to SRA on its 40th anniversary. I wish you all a fruitful conference.

19. Thank you.

1 Source: 2016 industry figures from DOS.
2 Data as of Jun 2017, excluding motor vehicles. Including motor vehicles, retail sales were up 1.9% year-on-year.