What support can businesses and workers in the retail sector tap on?

By December 21, 2019Current, Work

TL;DR – More initiatives, programmes and training than expected!  

Retail is an important sector in Singapore’s economy as it shapes the character of Singapore, underpins growth of the tourism industry and contributes to the enhanced quality of life for Singaporeans to live, work and play.

The six main sectors of retail in Singapore comprises of supermarkets and convenience stores, fashion and sporting goods, consumer electronics, furniture and household products, department stores, and jewellery and timepieces. These key sub-sectors include a good mix of both international and local enterprises that provide consumers with a wide variety of product offerings.

Developments across the globe may have increased the purchasing power of people, however, the retail industry in Singapore has also begun to experience a shift in its retailing landscape.

Traditional Singapore retail stores are struggling to make ends meet, as they begin to face threats from technology and digitalization, as well as the rise in demand along with the increased in expectations amongst the consumers.

From fashion to furniture, over the years, popular retailers such as Borders, Carrefour, Gap, Banana Republic and more recently, Sasa have closed their Singapore storefronts.

However, the decline in retail sales may not necessarily mean that Singaporeans are shopping less.

Instead, consumers’ preferences have shifted rapidly as a result of globalisation, which has also brought about a change in consumers’ purchasing decisions. Consumers are now better informed, and they are likely to seek both personalised products and seamless shopping experiences across multiple channels.

The rapidly evolving technologies have also introduced new methods of shopping, for instance, online shopping which is a growing trend amongst consumers. CNA reported that online sales made up 6.9% of the estimated S$3.9 billion in retail sales in September this year, up from 4.9% in the same period a year ago.

In other words, while Singapore’s retail sales have dipped in recent years, online shopping has increased.

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According to data provided by Euromonitor International, the growing e-commerce market is likely to become a key sales channel for the retail sector too.

Indeed, Bain Southeast Asia Digital Consumer Survey has found that a quarter of 400 million people in the ASEAN region shop online, and 150 million are digitally connected. In Singapore, the user penetration is expected to reach 74%, with about 3.86 million online users by 2020.

The company has also projected that the total number of digital consumers across Southeast Asia is expected to grow to 310 million by 2025.

In addition, Bain also reported that the average spend per digital consumer in the region is expected to grow from US$125 in 2018 to US$390 by 2025. The total online spend is expected to increase from US$31.2 billion to US$120 billion.

As such, retailers are now expected to innovate across their operations and invest in digital channels as the industry is undergoing a transformation.

While many e-commerce companies today are setting up brick-and-mortar storefronts, the retail stores are also fighting back with digital storefronts and by providing integrated services to its consumers.

So now, here comes the six million dollar question,

What support can businesses and workers in the retail sector tap on?

There are multiple examples of industry collaborations in Singapore which support retail businesses (for productivity, networks, innovations etc) and workers (for employment and employability) over the years.

Training for workers’ progression

Just recently, retail coffee chain Starbucks worked with NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to equip at least 2,000 Starbucks partners (comprising store managers, district managers and baristas) with a suite of new adaptive, technical and technological (ATT) skills by the end of 2020 under e2i’s Worker 4.0 framework.

New Starbucks partners will be trained in adaptive skills (e.g. Serving to Lead and Passion for Service), technical skills (Barista Basics, Shift Supervisor workshop and Store Manager Training), and technological skills (Human Resource Information System (HRIS) and Sales & Order Planning System). 


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Still on Starbucks, other than having at least 2,000 workers who will benefit from the collaboration with e2i, the coffee chain also tapped on e2i’s Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) to implement their new Mobile Order & Pay system, which will see 300 workers benefit from upskilling and wage increases.

Starbucks partner Nur Shafiqah Binte Mohamed Noor, 27, at the new Starbucks experience bar (one of six in Singapore), which aims to redefine the coffee experience for customers.


Starbucks partner, Nur Shafiqah Binte Mohamed Noor (27) joined the retail coffee chain eight years ago after completing her studies at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

The mother of a 15 month old daughter was also trained and mentored by her colleagues, winning a regional competition that gave her an opportunity to visit a Paul’s milk farm in Perth to learn why its milk makes Starbucks coffee taste better. The badges on her aprons represent certifications which she has completed.

She is also a class facilitator (one of the few lucky selected ones) for classes that new partners attend. Having veterans meet the new partners makes the latter excited to join the company, and have experienced friends to share tips with them.

More events and programmes for retailers’ and retail workers’ progression

Industry events such as Last Mile Fulfilment Asia, Singapore Retail Industry Conference & Exhibition 2019 and NTUC USME symposium provide retail businesses opportunities to learn future trends and expand their networks.  

Workers in retail can also access the SSG Skills Framework and courses from various training providers such as NTUC LearningHub to improve their skills. 

Course fee subsidies for Singaporeans


Under the Retail Industry Transformation Map, there are plans to accelerate the use of e-commerce.

E-commerce start-ups can tap on Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) for corporate innovation to peer group mentoring as well as access to international markets and communities championing the global startup scene.

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Placement for Singaporean Workers

The government recently launched a new Job Redesign Place and Train Programme for Retail Industry which will offer 200 training places in the next 2 years (half of which have been taken up by Decathlon). Retailers will receive salary support of up to 70% for employees placed on the programme for up to three months, while WSG will work with retailers to customise their training plans.

You can check out more training options for the retail industry here.

Besides looking for retail jobs on the open market, retail jobseekers can also sign up with e2i to join job fairs (even virtual ones) and attend employability workshops to brush up on their job search and interview skills.

Retail businesses can also tap on the Place-and-Train programme to hire employees.

Mothercare is one business which has worked with e2i to place employees under the Place-and-Train programme, while tapping on grants to improve productivity.


atomi is another retail business which tapped on the Place-and-Train programme to hire staff with no retail experience, who then receive on-the-job training, structured training and attend masterclasses to boost their retail skills.


Here’s an illustration of yet another happy internship placement.

So whether you’re a boss man, boss woman or employee in the retail scene, don’t miss out on all the initiatives available to help you do your business or work better.


(Featured image via)

Don’t miss out on our special Saturday feature, The Dive!

For this week, we asked retail workers if they are worried about their job security. We also asked them if they think retail is dead. Read here.


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