What's Happening In Singapore's eCommerce Market?

Amanda Lim

Singapore's eCommerce Industry Growth infographic - Source Google e-Conomy SEA 2020 by Google, Bain and Temasek

A strategic position, with relatively high spending power in the Southeast Asian region along with low barriers to entry due to well-developed infrastructure and an English speaking populace makes Singapore an attractive eCommerce market for many. Singapore also has among the world’s highest internet speeds1 and one of the highest smartphone penetration rates2 adding to its appeal.

Recent events in 2020 have left major changes to everyone’s daily lives. With the need for safe-distancing, eCommerce in Singapore is proving itself resilient in the face of these challenges. Singapore’s internet economy dropped between 2019 and 2020 due to its high exposure to travel, but it still saw good eCommerce growth of 87 per cent as reported by Google e-Conomy SEA 2020 in the visual above.3

With that in mind, it helps to explore the key considerations to bear in mind when expanding to Singapore’s eCommerce market.

Reasons to Enter Singapore’s eCommerce Market

Singapore has well-developed infrastructure, both in terms of internet connectivity and in terms of logistics infrastructure. Singaporeans have relatively higher spending power per capita to other Southeast Asian countries. With a population who is fluent in Chinese and English and a taste for cross-border online purchases, Singapore has low barriers to entry for new eCommerce businesses looking to expand into this country.

In terms of infrastructure and connectivity, Singapore’s well-developed road network means efficient local deliveries. With that said, when it comes to local deliveries, Singaporeans tend to expect next-day delivery and expectations of same-day delivery, if the shopper can afford it.

90 per cent4 of Singapore’s population are internet users, which means 5.29 million Singaporeans are connected to the internet out of a population of 5.87 million. The average Singaporean spends 8 hours and 7 minutes on the internet every day. This much familiarity with the internet means that reaching them is just a matter of choosing the right sales channels and marketing strategies. More than 7 in 10 Singaporean online shoppers have bought from overseas before in 2019, according to JP Morgan.5

Singaporeans have shown to have a large appetite when it comes to eCommerce. The Digital 2021: Singapore report estimates that the average Singaporean shopper spends USD785 on online shopping.6 This is higher than most Southeast Asian countries:

  • Malaysia’s (USD 341)
  • Indonesia’s (USD 219)
  • Thailand’s (USD216)
  • Vietnam’s (USD 132)
  • Philippines (USD 91)

Additionally, retail shops that have dotted Orchard Road are seeing fierce competition from both newer malls in Singapore’s heartland as well as online stores.7 The year 2020 also saw offline retail facing further challenges that COVID-19 brought.

These factors definitely signal the continuing importance of eCommerce in Singapore. So what factors have been driving the adoption of eCommerce here?

What’s Driving Singapore’s Shift Towards eCommerce?

1. COVID-19 Developments and Restrictions

More than a year after COVID-19 was first reported, Singapore has gone through various phases of restrictions ranging from a full lockdown from 7th April to 1st June 2020 to lighter restrictions this past year.

While there was a period with low case counts in 2021, a recent spike in cases saw restrictions tighten again. As of the time of this writing, restrictions include companies enforcing work from home arrangements, the closure of most social activities such as indoor fitness, dine-ins limited to 2 people at local eateries among others.8 This will continue to affect footfall in public areas and impact sales at physical stores. This disruptive situation is likely to continue for at least the next few months in 2021.

With these restrictions in place, online shopping platforms and eCommerce, in general, saw huge growth in 2020. iPrice,9 together with its partners reported that Singapore saw the highest surge in online shopping at 35% compared to 2019 in Southeast Asia. Singapore was followed by the Philippines (21%), Vietnam (19%), Malaysia (17%), Thailand (15%), and Indonesia (6%). The report mentions that the lockdowns periods and online sales preceded spikes in online shopping.

Statista10 backs this up with a recent survey showing that online grocery purchases have gone up in addition to online purchases of non-groceries as well. Companies like baby goods retailer Mothercare Singapore and home and living retailer Iuiga mentioned that online sales have increased significantly. Iuiga also mentioned that their online sales were sufficient to offset lost brick-and-mortar sales.11

After the circuit breaker in June 2020, retail sales were still limited. Offline retail saw a year-on-year decrease of 27.8 per cent while online retail saw a record 151.2 per cent increase with an elevated 18.1 per cent share of total retail sales.12 In comparison, online retail saw similar growth in December 2020 as Singapore prepared for its Phase 3 of re-opening, with a year-on-year growth of 58.1 per cent and 11.0 per cent share of total retail sales. With 13 months of positive growth for online retail, these online channels are here to stay and may even be the preferred method for local consumers.13 For more details on what happened during that period, you can check our 2020 SG COVID-19 impact report and our co-written report with Google.

In our earlier report on COVID-19’s impact on Singapore eCommerce, these people’s preference for shopping online is likely to persist even after COVID-19 ends. A Rakuten Insights survey showed that 57 per cent of respondents said that they would continue to purchase through online platforms as it is more convenient than physical stores.14 In addition, many prominent local retail stores, like local household name Robinsons, had to close or switch to online channels, citing issues amplified by the pandemic.15

With this in mind, eCommerce will still remain a prominent shopping channel in Singapore, which makes this option key in your expansion into Singapore’s market.

2. Better Bargains and Convenience for Consumers

Savvy Singaporean shoppers are spoilt for choice when it comes to the kinds of products and deals they can buy online. To top it off, many eCommerce merchants are vying for a slice of Singapore’s eCommerce pie, either by carving their own niche or capturing the mass market.

In a study by iPrice, a key reason for Singaporeans to shop online is to access promotions and discounts easily.16 Similarly in a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 60% of Singaporeans access social media to tap into promotional offerings and reviews before making the purchase. The Global Consumer Insights Pulse survey, also by PricewaterhouseCoopers, on Singapore respondents further reinforces this.17 In the survey, more than half of respondents in Singapore indicated that they are:18

  • Price oriented (59%)
  • Focused on saving (59%)
  • Digital (52%)

On the other hand, the PwC survey mentions only 33% of Singaporean respondents indicated that they were optimistic about the economy.

Singaporeans also shop online to find products that cannot be bought locally. According to JP Morgan, around 73% of online shoppers in Singapore have bought items from overseas online stores.19 Thus the convenience of accessing these items and getting them delivered straight to the shopper’s doorstep cannot be overstated.

iPrice also found that 18% of Singaporean shoppers do so because they need to fix something urgently.20 For instance, an office assistant has to address the need for more monitors quickly as new hires are coming in to work. In the morning, she makes an order for 25 new monitors and asks for same day delivery and the parcels arrive at the office before it closes. She and her colleagues are able to set up their new workstation pretty quickly to welcome the new hires that way.

Because Singapore is a small island, speedy domestic shipping is a feature that Singaporeans are beginning to expect. As cross-border deliveries are difficult to fulfil within the same day, you can always give a realistic timeframe for an international shipment to arrive to set your customers’ expectations right. Singaporeans are generally aware that cross-border shipping tends to take longer than domestic shipping.

3. Popularity of Cashless Payment Methods

When it comes to paying for goods online, Singaporeans tend to favour cashless methods, particularly credit cards. One likely reason Singaporeans favour using credit cards could be to maximise the rewards programme offered by their credit card provider.

Based on WorldPay’s Global Payments report 2021,21 Singaporeans preference in payment methods, from most used to least is as follows:

  • Credit cards – 45%
  • Digital Wallets – 20%
  • Bank Transfers – 12%
  • Debit Card – 11%
  • Charge & Deferred Debit Card – 5%
  • Buy Now Pay Later – 3%
  • Direct Debit – 1%
  • Pre-paid Card – 1%
  • Cash on Delivery – 1%

The presence of global ePayment platforms and the availability of cashless payments make it easy for Singaporeans to shop globally on sites like AliExpress, Amazon, Taobao, and even sites like Etsy and Kickstarter.

What are Singaporean's Digital Habits 2021 - international online shopping, eCommerce payment preferences

An emerging payment phenomenon is buy now pay later (BNPL). Different sources mention different statistics on buy now pay later’s usage in Singapore. A different report shared by Finder, a financial product aggregator, estimates that 38% of Singaporeans or 1.1 million people have used buy now pay later service.22 WorldPay places the number of Singaporeans using this payment method at 3%.

These buy now pay later services can also be used for purchasing items on platforms like Shopee and Lazada. Finder’s data suggests that major life events, such as becoming engaged, getting married, and the like could increase one’s likelihood of trying buy now pay later services.

On top of credit card penetration, bigger players like Singapore’s authorities and banks have also taken the task to convert Singapore into a cashless society.23 Initiatives such as PayNow among others are underway, such as a common QR code to make it easy for individuals and businesses to use the service.24

With that said, it doesn’t hurt to offer cash on delivery as a payment option if you are thinking of expanding your eCommerce shop into Singapore. Janio Asia’s latest cash on delivery service provides faster remittance periods to help keep a healthy cashflow for your business.

3. Low Barriers to Entry

Many factors contribute to having a low barrier to entry for overseas eCommerce businesses to enter Singapore’s market.

For starters, English and Mandarin being two of the four national languages of Singapore makes communicating with consumers accessible to global eCommerce players. These businesses can then build trade relations with other businesses in the country and the government as well. Singaporeans are 97.1% literate according to the latest statistics from Singstat in 2015.25

Furthermore, Singapore consistently ranks well as a transportation hub.26 Not only are Singapore’s ports one of the busiest in the world,27 Singapore’s Changi Airport has been voted the best in the world consistently,28 cinching the award in 2019 as well.29 Their air cargo division also ranks within the top 20 in the world in 2014.30

What Could Hinder Singaporeans from Buying Online?

Even with eCommerce booming on the island, Singaporeans don’t always choose to buy online. Some reasons include:

  • Accessibility to nearby malls and grocery shops

  • Scepticism

1. Accessibility to Nearby Malls and Grocery Shops

Even though Orchard Road’s decline was driven by two major factors: the rise of eCommerce and competing suburban shopfronts, traditional brick and mortar stores still have a fighting chance. Because of the rise of suburban malls and their accessibility due to Singapore’s well-developed infrastructure, it makes walking to a nearby mall or grocery shop a breeze for Singaporeans as well.

Even though Singaporeans may miss out on discounts when shopping online, which in some cases can go up to 90%37, the accessibility and convenience of a physical store make them a competitor to eCommerce stores.32

In a survey conducted by Janio in 2020, Singaporean respondents frequently mentioned the ability to try on or touch and feel products was an important decision-making factor for them. PricewaterhouseCooper’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2021 mentions that 50% of Singaporean respondents mentioned that the ability to touch and feel the products is important when shopping in a traditional store, with only 2 per cent saying they would be uncomfortable going into a store.33

However, some physical stores have taken to the online space to integrate the shopping experience into both online and offline channels. This strategy then enables customers to have a feel for the product before buying.

2. Scepticism

Singaporeans tend to be meticulous about what an online product has to offer before they make a purchase.

It didn’t help that Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has stepped in before to issue advisories on some cosmetic products34 that were bought from overseas. While some of these products indeed had harmful chemicals, the average online shopper tends to be sceptical about product listings in general to begin with.

Being critical of product listings apply to all verticals selling in the online space. As much as 48% of Singapore’s online shoppers would compare35 the prices and features of the products before making a purchase, so it’s best to make a good first impression with good copywriting and professional product photos on your listing’s landing page.

Being critical shoppers, Singaporeans also tend to rely on product reviews before making their purchase like most Southeast Asian shoppers.36

With Singapore’s retail space being a competitive one, it helps to have promotional strategies that help you stand out from the other players and to prepare your store’s operations to make a good first impression.

Having a delivery network that is speedy and reliable will help make your entrance into Singapore a smooth one. To test out the Singaporean market for the first time, it helps to use the cross border shipping model as you don’t need to have an upfront investment to fulfil orders. Set the expectations right by indicating how soon packages will be able to depart your country and arrive in Singapore by mentioning this upfront on your online store.

If you’re confident of the demand for your product you could partner up with existing offline stores to get the items out there. As an example, Urban Story sells through their partners’ physical stores based at centrally located areas and hip shopping neighbourhoods like Raffles Place and Bugis. That way, you can kill two birds with one stone by offering an offline shopping experience, and a cross border online shopping storefront too.

Having aggressive discount campaigns can help to establish your foothold in the short run if you can afford it. But if you’re in it for the long run, it helps to know how to do inbound marketing and building your brand to solidify your presence in Singapore. However, these strategies have to be complemented by a speedy and reliable shipping experience in order to make the most out of your eCommerce experience for your customers.

Once your eCommerce transaction is complete, it helps to ask your customer to leave a review in order to increase trust in your product’s listing.

With Singapore’s digitally-savvy shoppers and continued technological development, Singapore’s eCommerce market has never been more attractive for international players. To capitalise on this, ensure that your eCommerce website and listings are able to capture your customer’s trust, and top it off with reliable shipping partners to fulfil cross-border deliveries for you.

Looking to ship throughout Southeast Asia? Contact us to find out how.

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References

  1. The ASEAN Post: Singapore Wins Internet Speed Race
  2. We Are Social: Digital in 2019 Singapore
  3. Statista: eCommerce in Singapore  
  4. Today: The Big Read: After decades at the top, Orchard Road faces a time of reckoning
  5. iPrice: A Crazy World of Singaporean Online Shoppers – Which One Are You?
  6. PWC: Total Retail 2016 – Southeast Asia & Singapore Highlights
  7. Straits Times: Singapore shoppers 2nd in Asia-Pacific for buying foreign goods online – Study
  8. World Pay
  9. Business Times: The Cashless Journey Has Only Just Begun
  10. Channel News Asia: New service PayNow to allow interbank transfers using mobile phone numbers
  11. Singstat: General Household Survey 2015
  12. World Bank Blogs: Three factors that have made Singapore a global logistics hub
  13. Straits Times: Singapore tops list of leading maritime capitals for fourth time
  14. The World’s Best Airports in 2019 are announced
  15. Singapore Changi Airport named as the World’s Best Airport
  16. Centre For Aviation: Air Cargo. Still the Cinderella of the airline business – CAPA’s top 20 cargo airports
  17. Lazada
  18. Channel News Asia: Singapore retail needs to aggressively embrace e-commerce
  19. Channel News Asia: ‘Convenience at a risk’: When buying cosmetics online turns ugly
  20. Urban Story
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