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Govt seeks views from public on how to rejuvenate heartland shops amid rise in online shopping

SINGAPORE — In the last few years, Mr Jasni Buang, who owns Nurlin’s barbershop in Hougang, has seen a rapid decline in young customers. 

Shops in the heartlands are facing greater competition given the rise of online shopping.
Shops in the heartlands are facing greater competition given the rise of online shopping.
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  • Shopkeepers in the heartlands have seen a drop in customers in recent times
  • This is especially because consumers are increasingly shopping online
  • The trend is why the Government is now seeking views on how to rejuvenate heartland shops in housing estates
  • The survey was welcomed by shop owners though they were unsure how it would help boost business

SINGAPORE — In the last few years, Mr Jasni Buang, who owns Nurlin’s barbershop in Hougang, has seen a rapid decline in young customers. 

The 62-year-old, who has operated the shop for three decades, said that his business is now largely dependent on regular customers, who are mostly seniors living in the area. 

“We don’t see a lot of youngsters any more. Maybe they go to more (trendy) shops to cut their hair,” he added. 

Other shopkeepers running heartland shops have also been hit by a dip in customers, especially as consumers are increasingly shopping online.

Mr Eric Lee, the 63-year-old owner of a stationery and gift shop in Ang Mo Kio, said: “People prefer to shop online now… they don’t even need to leave their houses. Even if you put items on promotion, they won’t see.”

In the face of this trend, the Government is seeking views from the public on how to rejuvenate heartland shops in housing estates.

Announcing the online survey in a Facebook post on Thursday (Feb 3), National Development Minister Desmond Lee said that the aim is to get Singaporeans’ views and ideas on how to refresh these shops while preserving their intrinsic value in the communities.

Among other questions, the survey asks respondents on the frequency they visit heartland shops, malls both in the heartlands and in the city, and e-commerce sites, and whether this frequency changed during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“As Singaporeans’ needs evolve, we must explore ways to continually rejuvenate and refresh our heartland shops, so that they remain relevant, vibrant and endearing to our community,” Mr Lee wrote.

In a bid to boost business for hawkers and heartland shops, the Government last year announced a scheme to provide all Singaporean households with S$100 in Community Development Councils vouchers, which can be used at participating hawkers and heartland merchants.

The latest tranche of the voucher scheme was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month. 

As Singaporeans’ needs evolve, we must explore ways to continually rejuvenate and refresh our heartland shops, so that they remain relevant, vibrant and endearing to our community.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee

The move to seek public views was welcomed on Thursday by eight shop owners who spoke to TODAY and who have observed a declining number of people visiting their shops over the years, though they were unsure how the survey would help boost business.

Mr Ramakrishnan Kumar, 48, owner of Chennaimart mini supermarket in Toa Payoh, said that customers frequent his shop for the affordable prices, but it is not sustainable for his business in the long run. 

“If you lower the price, your competitors will lower it even more. This affects our business,” he added.

The shopkeepers hope that any rejuvenation plans by the Government can boost their business at a minimal cost. 

Some of them such as Mr Eric Lee, the stationery and gift shop owner, are already thinking of moving their physical stores online and installing cashless payment systems. 

“These are plans for the future. Right now, I’m focusing on keeping my business (afloat),” he said. 

In his Facebook post, Mr Desmond Lee said that heartland shops provide a convenient and affordable option for residents to buy daily essential products and services.

“They also reflect the distinctive character and identity of our neighbourhoods. There are trades or local food unique to shops in specific neighbourhoods, which make them especially endearing,” the minister said.

Beyond this, heartland shops serve as a social glue for the community and provide spaces for residents to meet and interact with one another.

“These shops, especially social enterprises, can also provide opportunities for local and inclusive employment for the community, or even a space for budding entrepreneurs.”

The survey is part of a study by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to assess the value of heartland shops and the impact that Covid-19 has had on them.

HDB is also looking to find ways to help these businesses stay viable in the midst of changing consumer patterns and habits.

Some proposals floated by various parties in recent months include lowering operating costs, encouraging heartland shopkeepers to sell goods online and boosting the skills of workers.

Last year, an HDB survey found that while Covid-19 has put a damper on businesses at shops, markets and eating places in HDB estates, these shops were not doing as well even before the pandemic. 

In 2018, the housing authority already saw a drop in patronage at these neighbourhood amenities, with the exception of supermarkets.

HDB has about 15,000 heartland shops islandwide that are either leased by the board or owned by private operators.

The survey last year also found that many consumers have turned to online shopping. Nearly four in 10 HDB residents shopped online in 2018, and almost half of them reported that they had shopped less at HDB shops.

This group of online shoppers was mostly people living in four-room or bigger flats, younger residents and families with young children.

Those interested in sharing their views as part of the latest survey may do so at go.gov.sg/hss-survey.

Related topics

heartland shops Covid-19 hdb business Desmond Lee

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