Digitalisation 'a very important enabler' of recovery in pandemic-hit retail sector, says Gan Kim Yong
SINGAPORE: Digitalisation is “a very important enabler” of recovery for the pandemic-battered retail sector, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Aug 24).
Having an e-commerce platform, for instance, will allow brick and mortar retailers to expand their reach beyond the physical boundaries of their shops and also the Singapore market.
“Digitalisation also helps the retail sector to be more visible, to be more efficient in their operations, as well as provide a lot of flexibility,” Mr Gan told reporters after visiting local fashion retailer Charles & Keith.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated transformation of the industry, but digitalisation is more than just “simply putting (one’s) current physical business online”.
Mr Gan said: “As we encourage and support the retail sector to (go digital), we must also at the same time help them to transform their business model, think about it from a digital business point of view.”
Citing Charles & Keith as an example, the minister noted how the retailer now has software that uploads feedback from customers directly to its design team, allowing the company to respond quickly to changes in consumer demands.
The retailer’s marketing team also taps on a digital tool to monitor worldwide sales in real time, as well as trends among their products based on what customers are searching for online.
“So I think digitalisation is a very important enabler for the retail sector to be able to emerge from COVID-19 stronger. I'm quite confident that the retail sector will be able to recover and do well when we reach a COVID-19 resilient state,” Mr Gan said.
But the journey “will be quite challenging” and the Government will continue to provide the necessary support to facilitate transformation in the industry. Businesses must also continue to invest in their own capabilities, particularly in helping their employees to develop digital skill sets, he added.
Asked if it is reasonable for battered retailers to expect more financial support from the Government, Mr Gan replied that the sector has been “quite realistic” and are aware that such support “will always be limited and it is much more important for them to (be allowed) to get back to business”.
“This is what we are doing – keeping Singapore safe and yet at the same time, open up safely to the rest of the world so that visitors, businessmen (and) tourists will come back to Singapore. That is the key engine for the growth of our retail sector,” he said.
Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, who was also at the visit, noted that an industry digital plan had been launched previously for the retail sector, which offered industry players digital solutions throughout the whole value chain, from design to retail.
“For example, procurement. By going digital, it allows them to source for more suppliers and because of the transparency, it will also allow them to do price optimisation,” she said.
Authorities are also working with trade associations and chambers, such as the Singapore Retailers Association, to reach out to businesses to understand their digital-readiness scale and their future plans.
“The industry digital plan has a repertoire of digital solutions to support each of the enterprises in enhancing their digital capabilities,” Ms Low told reporters.
“Some of them may want to focus on staff, and some may want to focus on the shop front or back of the house. There's something for everyone in terms of the digital solutions.”