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Mr Lee Yi Shyan at the Singapore Retailers Association Ball 2015

Mr Lee Yi Shyan at the Singapore Retailers Association Ball 2015

SPEECH BY MR LEE YI SHYAN, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE, MINISTRY OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY AND MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, AT THE SINGAPORE RETAILERS ASSOCIATION BALL 2015 ON WEDNESDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER 2015, 7.15PM AT FAIRMONT BALLROOM, RAFFLES CITY CONVENTION CENTRE

 Dato’ Dr Jannie Chan, President of the Singapore Retailers Association,

 SRA Council Members,

 Ladies and gentlemen,

 1.     A very good evening to all of you. I am delighted to join you on this occasion to celebrate the achievements of the retail industry.

 Significance of our retail industry

 2.     Singapore’s retail industry[1] is an important economic pillar, contributing $35 billion in annual operating receipts in 2014. The industry continues to contribute to our economy through the creation of jobs, with the opening of new stores, fresh retail concepts and more brands. According to a study by CB Richard Ellis, Singapore is among the world’s top 20 countries with a significant proportion of international retail brands, with many of these brands brought in by some of you. I believe there is much that Singapore’s retail scene can offer both local consumers and tourists, with the opening of new malls in the downtown shopping belt and our residential towns, each seeking to provide a differentiated experience.

 Supporting our local retailers

 3.     To maintain the vibrancy and competitive edge of our local retail scene, it is critical that we enable retailers to grow sustainably. This is why the government has dedicated substantial resources through the first Retail Productivity Plan that was launched in 2011. The goal was to develop retailers’ capabilities in productivity improvement and technology adoption, and improve operational efficiency and reduce reliance on manpower. Since then, a total of 1,900 retail establishments have been supported in various productivity upgrading initiatives, ranging from process improvement to capability development and customer service enhancements. This could not have been achieved without your support and coming on board.

 The Second Retail Productivity Plan

 4.     Just last week, I announced the second Retail Productivity Plan, which will take the sector into its next stage of growth. The second plan builds on the outcomes of the first, such as by improving retailers’ operational efficiency through the use of manpower-saving technologies such as RFID. Adoption of such technologies can reap benefits even for smaller players. Ngee Soon Jewellery, a heartland jeweller operating two outlets, reduced the time previously required for daily stock-taking by half by using RFID technology for inventory management. By improving productivity, Ngee Soon Jewellery’s staff were able to focus on providing better customer service.

 5.     Bigger companies have also taken similar measures to add value to their operations, as well as to the customer. Three years ago, IKEA Singapore started to relook their operations processes from the perspective of customer experience. “How best do we meet our customer?” “How do we create ease of shopping in IKEA?” With this focus, IKEA was able to identify the functions that needed work first, such as customer-facing functions like customer relations and food business. Redundant tasks were then eliminated and hours freed up for more valuable activities that could contribute to increased customer satisfaction.

 6.    These are encouraging measures that companies have taken to improve productivity. But more importantly, the second plan also focuses on driving top-line growth as a key strategy to combat the challenges faced by retailers daily, such as rising costs and intense competition from overseas and online players. Some of the strategies include supporting our local retailers in upgrading their e-commerce capabilities and embarking on omni-channel models, developing strong local brands and designing differentiated in-store experiences for customers.

 7.    At the same time, I strongly encourage companies to explore ways to work together to derive synergies across and within different industries. Doing so will not only spur growth, but also strengthen and shape a more competitive retail industry for Singapore. I am pleased to note that such efforts have already been ongoing. Let me share two examples with you:

 Singtel’s 99% SME Campaign

 8.    This August, Singtel and DBS launched an initiative to encourage more SMEs to maintain a web presence, and to drive more footfall into physical SME business in retail and F&B services. By doing so, they hope to provide a good platform for SMEs to increase brand awareness, gain local support for their businesses, and develop capabilities in digital marketing.

 Redmart’s Marketplace

 9.     Similarly, Redmart, which is a fast growing grocery e-tailer in Singapore, has also embarked on a project which brings out synergies between the online and offline players within the retail sector. Through its Marketplace, an online platform for niche grocers and retailers to sell their products, Redmart aims to work with over 400 local SMEs that may not have experience in e-commerce. The project also includes a Business Improvement Program for companies to receive mentorship from Redmart to enhance their eCommerce business, including assistance with digital capabilities such as curation of offerings, digital marketing as well as analytics. These are just two examples out of the many possibilities for collaboration out there. I look forward to hearing more of such in future.

 A retail workforce for the future

 10.   The second Retail Productivity Plan cannot be implemented in isolation of the fast changing business landscape and manpower needs of the industry. We need a highly skilled, adaptable, and future-ready workforce to drive the next phase of retail industry growth; a workforce that is able to work with new technologies and respond to consumers’ fast-changing needs. This is where the nationwide SkillsFuture effort comes in. SPRING Singapore has been working with various agencies such as the Singapore Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and other industry and training partners in an effort to equip our retail workforce with relevant skills.

 11.    Company support is particularly crucial to skills deepening, as it provides the main platform for individuals to develop themselves and in turn, contribute to their companies. We welcome companies to come on board SkillsFuture in various ways, such as providing internship and training opportunities, as well as developing competency-based career progression pathways.

 12.   I am also pleased to note that efforts have already begun to prepare our retail workforce for the future. For example, an Omni-Channel Retailing Masterclass, developed by SPRING and WDA, was held last month to equip local retailers with the skills and insights to drive omni-channel retailing, as well as on social and digital strategy.

 13.    SkillsFuture also cannot succeed without the involvement of industry partners such as SRA, who play key roles in our ongoing efforts to support the retail industry. SRA actively promotes industry and manpower development, including offering scholarships to raise retail standards and develop the next generation of retail leaders. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the seven recipients of the National Retail Scholarships 2015, who will be going on to do a MBA in Retailing, as well as the seven recipients of the SRA-MasterCard Retail Scholarships 2015, who will be doing a Diploma in Retail Management.

Recognising Retail Excellence

 14.    To stay ahead of the competition, it is critical for retailers to constantly upgrade your processes, retail offerings, service levels and shopping experiences. I would like to commend SRA for organising the annual SRA Retail Awards since 2000, and for its efforts to raise standards and the profile of the retail industry by promoting innovation, creativity and retail excellence. I would also like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners in advance, and hope that your stories will continue to inspire others in the industry to strive to make a difference, and develop new and exciting concepts for the retail scene.

 Conclusion

15.   Thank you, and I wish everyone an enjoyable evening ahead.

[1] Refers to retail trade excluding motor vehicles & petrol stations and hawkers & stall-holders.

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