The Straits Times - Transforming the way people shop

The Straits Times - Transforming the way people shop

In the third of a weekly series on areas where jobs are being created, we look at the retail sector.

The Straits Times - Transforming the way people shop

Since Ms Chong Wei Shi joined NTUC FairPrice in 2010, she has seen the supermarket chain embrace technology in a bid to keep up with the changing retail scene.

From machines that automatically deposit the correct change to palm-size devices that customers can use to scan items and tally their purchases as they shop, novel creations have been rolled out at some FairPrice outlets.

For Ms Chong - branch manager of the FairPrice Finest supermarket at Junction 8 - and her 100-strong team, such technologies offer possibilities instead of disruption.

They see it as a way to boost productivity, reduce human error and improve the shopping experience. Such innovation is crucial as the retail landscape transforms, said the 29-year-old.

“(Customers) want to be able to connect with a company at any time, and are more receptive to new technology, with some even expecting this to complement their shopping experience. As retail professionals, we need to adapt quickly or risk losing our relevance.”

In recent years, physical stores have been feeling the heat due to growing competition from e-commerce players. Some retailers have lost out, and closed shop.

Still, amid the gloom, the sector has many opportunities for people who are savvy, versatile and eager to adapt and learn - like Ms Chong. Singapore can take comfort that international brands such as Uniqlo and Victoria’s Secret still come knocking - both opened flagship stores here last year.

Other bright spots include Asia’s growing middle class, which offers promising new markets to venture into, as well as the vast possibilities on tap in the online retail space.

To seize such opportunities, both businesses and workers must step out of their comfort zone, and embrace new technologies and skills to stay relevant, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran last year at the launch of the retail industry transformation map.

This road map - developed by Spring Singapore together with trade associations, unions and the industry - calls for firms to innovate, try out new technology, redesign jobs and expand overseas through e-commerce.

Official figures show that as of last September, employment in the retail sector stood at about 162,500, or 4.4 per cent of total employment. Professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) make up about 4.6 per cent of the retail workforce, and the Government hopes this proportion will go up to 6 per cent in the coming years.

Existing jobs will be transformed as the retail sector evolves. For instance, front-of-house jobs are expected to require higher-value skills in future.

This could see traditional roles such as sales assistants redesigned into specialised roles such as personal shoppers, fashion stylists or e-commerce experts.

Other up-and-coming areas in the sector include digital marketing, e-commerce and data analytics.

One goal of the retail industry transformation map is to grow the e-commerce share of total retail receipts from the current 3 per cent to 10 per cent by 2020.

So the Government is helping to identify possible online platforms for retailers and conduct masterclasses on digital marketing and Web analytics skills, among other things. It is also taking steps to build a pipeline of deep-skilled workers for the retail industry.

The Singapore Institute of Retail Studies administers two professional conversion programmes (PCP) for those looking to make a career switch into the retail sector.

The institute has received 40 applications since its PCP for retail store managers was launched last July. Its other PCP for digital professionals - whose duties include evaluating and proposing online strategies, and conducting market research - has received 15 applications since its launch in January.

In a bid to hone her skills, e-commerce product executive Jeanette Tan signed up for a masterclass on digital marketing strategy last year which was conducted by veterans in the digital field.

The 24-year-old communications graduate from Nanyang Technological University said the industry’s growth potential was a key priority when deciding on her career.

“In the last couple of years, e-commerce has boomed exponentially and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon,” said Ms Tan, whose duties at artisan jewellery label Choo Yilin include thinking up digital campaigns.

“It’s now nearly impossible for any brand to survive or grow without having some sort of digital presence or digital marketing in their business strategy… I find the idea of this very exciting and dynamic.”

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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