Much has been made of the surprisingly slow rate that Singapore has embraced e-commerce. While the rest of Southeast Asia has been swapping trips to the mall for shopping on mobiles and tablets, Singapore’s love of shopping in person seems to have continued unabated.
But with retail growth now stagnating, the indications are that traditional shops are hitting difficult times. As the head of an e-commerce business in multiple markets across Southeast Asia, I have been waiting for the right time to enter Singapore.
Now that time has come, and I believe 2014 will be the year that e-commerce in Singapore finally emerges from the shadows.
So what’s been holding Singapore back up to now? It’s nothing to do with technology – the infrastructure and everyday connectivity is all there, through fixed line broadband and the total penetration of mobile internet.
It’s nothing to do with security either – Singapore has a strong legislative framework with protections for both consumers and their data.
The main problem is that consumers just haven’t embraced one of the key attractions of e-commerce – added convenience. What this means in many markets – access to products difficult to find locally – doesn’t apply in Singapore.
And it’s obvious why. In a small city state full of shopping malls, why wait days for a paid delivery when you can make the trip in minutes yourself?
But the landscape is changing, and the tide is turning against visiting physical stores. With increased congestion, those trips are starting to take longer. What’s more, measures to ease congestion have also increased the already eye-watering cost of owning a car.
The experience at Singapore’s shopping malls is changing as well. Car parking is always in huge demand, taxi queues are long, and there are throngs of shoppers regularly blocking up surrounding streets.
Inside, a squeezed workforce is struggling to provide service in an environment of rising costs.
“We’re Singaporeans. We love shopping,” may have become a well-known slogan, but the increasing number of leisure options – from the indoor stadium to Gardens by the Bay – means the shopping mall is no longer the only option on a Saturday afternoon.
Enter e-commerce. Done the right way, it can offer all the benefits of a visit to the shopping mall without the drawbacks – and all from behind your desk at work or from the comfort of your own home.
If it is able to offer real cost savings, a wide selection of products online, easy and transparent returns policies, and cash payment on delivery, then it is shopping made easy, just the way Singapore likes it.
But what about waiting for that delivery? If there are same-day deliveries in the United States, then why can this not be achieved in a geographically contained space like Singapore?
I believe that a sophisticated supply chain system, with e-tailers fulfilling the deliveries themselves, will be the key to becoming an e-commerce success in Singapore.
In the US, online department stores have helped to make e-commerce a part of the country’s everyday retail experience. Amazon.com has grown into a destination website with a name that’s front of mind whatever you want to buy.
Are we going to see the same trend play out in Singapore? I believe 2014 is the moment of truth.
Maximilian is among the speakers who will be sharing their expertise at the World Retail Congress Asia Pacific.
World Retail Congress Asia Pacific
Marina Bay Convention Centre
10 Bayfront Avenue
24-26 March 2014
Click here to register.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Maximilian Bittner is the Chief Executive Officer of the Lazada Group. He assumed the role in March 2012. As the CEO, Maxis the driving force for the Lazada brand across the region and is responsible for the performance of all 5 operating countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.