Mr Seah Kian Peng: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry given the continued decline in retail sales for the seventh straight month, what is Ministry's assessment of the outlook for the retail industry and what will the Ministry be doing to help retailers and the workers that are employed in this sector.
Written reply (to be attributed to Minister for Trade & Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing)
1. From January to August this year, retail sales volume, excluding motor vehicle sales, fell by 1.8% year-on-year. Retail demand has been affected by weaker consumer sentiments amidst heightened uncertainties in the global economy. There are also structural challenges facing our retailers, such as tighter labour constraints and increasing competition from e-commerce.
2. There are retail companies which are doing well in this challenging environment. Some have made good use of technology to deliver new concepts and offer innovative retail experiences to their customers. Others have expanded into the e-commerce space by adopting an omni-channel format that integrates online and offline retail. For example, Skin Inc tapped on Enterprise Singapore’s support to develop an online strategy targeting the Chinese market, including setting up online stores on WeChat and Weibo, which are some of the largest online platforms in China. Skin Inc has also developed an offline strategy to promote and launch new products to customers through Sephora’s physical stores. This omni-channel strategy is expected to give the company a three-fold increase in its China sales.
3. New companies have also entered the local retail scene. Last month, Japanese retail chain BEAMS set up two pop-up stores in Singapore, which are among their largest outside of Japan. This is an example of pop-up retail, which is gaining popularity as it allows retailers to test new products and concepts.
4. As part of the rejuvenation of Orchard Road, the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) is curating the use of event spaces along the Orchard Road Pedestrian Mall (ORPM). Since April this year, ORBA has secured 22 pop-ups and organised monthly night markets. The ORPM is becoming the choice venue for well-known retail brands to launch new products, beyond the traditional retail setting. In January this year, we launched Design Orchard, a one-stop shop for locals and tourists seeking out unique, locally designed products, featuring over 70 local brands.
5. The Government will work with retail companies to upgrade their capabilities and grow their business. We introduced the Retail Industry Digital Plan in November 2017 to provide a step-by-step guide for retailers to digitalise their processes. To help retailers expand overseas, Enterprise Singapore provides internationalisation support through seminars, business missions, and building platforms for our local retailers to gain brand exposure overseas. An example is the ‘Singaporium’ pop-up in Manila, Philippines, which took place in September this year. The event involved 17 local retail, food and lifestyle brands and attracted an estimated 400,000 visitors. Local fashion retailer Benjamin Barker and pet store chain Pet Lovers Centre are examples of companies which have recently expanded into regional markets such as Malaysia and the Philippines.
6. As the industry transforms, our workers also need to be upskilled. The Retail Skills Framework helps our retail workers assess their career interests and identifies relevant training programmes to upgrade their skills. This is supported by the efforts of our unions, Trade Associations and Chambers (TAC) and employers. Last month, Dairy Farm Singapore, the owner of retail chains including Cold Storage, Giant and 7-Eleven, set up a Jobs, Skills and Training Committee together with the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union to help more than 5,000 of their workers in training and skills upgrading.
7. Retail workers who are affected by restructuring or business closure can tap on WSG for career advisory and matching services to other hiring retail firms. There are currently around 2,000 vacancies in the retail sector, ranging from Cashiers to Marketing and Business Development Managers, and Sales Associate Professionals. Workers who would like to pursue career opportunities in a new industry can also tap on WSG’s support through the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP) and Career Trial under the Adapt and Grow Initiative.