Heartland businesses key part of S'pore's social network: Halimah

Heartland businesses are a key part of Singapore’s social network and it is important for them to transform and continue being part of this ecosystem, said President Halimah Yacob yesterday.

Speaking to the media after a dialogue with The Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore (FMAS), she said that the Republic would not be the same without heartland enterprises.

“They add vibrancy and dynamism to our society, and are extremely accessible.

“No matter how accessible shopping centres are, there’s nothing that beats the accessibility of neighbourhood hawkers and… grocery shops,” Madam Halimah said, adding that these enterprises also provide the majority of Singaporeans access to affordable food.

She acknowledged that the challenge for them is how to adapt to grow, but the President was heartened to hear that FMAS has been preparing its members in this regard.

In particular, the association has set a target of having 70 per cent of the hawkers and heartland retailers it represents digitalise by June next year.

FMAS represents about 16,000 hawkers and 17,000 retailers across Singapore.

As part of its efforts to drive digitalisation among heartland businesses, FMAS has organised 25 webinars on topics such as e-commerce and advertising over the past six months.

During the dialogue, members of the association highlighted the challenges that heartland businesses are facing.

Some of these are more long-standing, such as a manpower crunch, competition from e-commerce and online retailers, while others have surfaced more recently and are associated with adopting digital processes.

Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, president of the FMAS, noted the difficulties that heartland businesses face in hiring, especially with well-educated youth unwilling to take up jobs in hawker centres.

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The chairman of FMAS’ hawker division, Mr Anthony Low, said that the main challenge for hawkers in adopting e-payment processes is the lack of knowledge and unfamiliarity with mobile applications.

“For older hawkers, many of them prefer to receive cash rather than digital payments, as they feel more assured receiving the money in person,” he said.

Elaborating, Mr Low added: “Some of the older hawkers did not even have Internet banking accounts, while others were not aware that there are mobile apps you can use to see if payments have gone through.”

But he said that there has been an uptick in e-payment adoption over the past few months, with incentives such as those provided under the Hawkers Go Digital programme proving to be a good encouragement to get stallholders on board cashless payments.

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There are still some teething problems though, he said.

Some stallholders have been scammed by errant customers who show screenshots of old e-payment transactions to trick the hawkers into thinking that payments have been made.

Addressing this, Madam Halimah said that government agencies such as the Infocomm Media Development Authority and Enterprise Singapore will help hawkers deal with such issues, adding that it is something that can be overcome.

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