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What's Happening In Singapore's eCommerce Market?

Amanda Lim

Overview of Singapore’s eCommerce Market

With many players eyeing the Southeast Asian market for eCommerce expansion, Singapore has always stood out as an attractive market. Singapore has the highest internet speeds1 and one of the highest smartphone penetration rates2 in the world, making it a ripe market to enter for eCommerce.

But what are the considerations that you should have in mind if you want to expand into Singapore’s eCommerce industry?

Why Should You Enter Singapore’s eCommerce Market?

Singapore’s eCommerce market is expected to grow steadily in the upcoming years. Statista3 is expecting Singapore’s eCommerce market value to hit US$ 3.9 billion in 2024. This is a 9.1% CAGR from 2020’s expected value of US$ 2.7 billion.

The majority of Singaporeans are already connected to the internet. The number of internet users in Singapore has reached 4.9 million in 20192, out of a 5.8 million population. That’s an internet penetration rate of 84%. Of the 4.9 million users, 3.5 million of them – that’s 73% – have bought items online, which means a sizeable number of them are digitally savvy enough to navigate the realms of eCommerce.

Singaporeans also tend to spend more when shopping online, compared to its other Southeast Asian neighbours. The average revenue per online shopper in Singapore stands at US$675.713, which is higher than Malaysia and Indonesia’s combined.

Additionally, retail shops that have dotted Orchard Road are seeing fierce competition4 by not only new malls appearing in suburban Singapore, but also online stores. This signals changing times for traditional brick-and-mortar retail models. To top it off, Singapore is home to popular eCommerce platforms that are dominating the Southeast Asian region, such as Carousell and Shopee.

These factors definitely signal the rise of eCommerce in Singapore. So what has been driving the adoption of eCommerce in this Southeast Asian country?

What’s Driving Singapore’s Shift Towards eCommerce?

Some major factors driving Singapore’s surge in eCommerce activity include:

  • Better Bargains and Convenience for Consumers

  • Popularity of Cashless Payment Methods

  • Low Barriers to Entry

1. Better Bargains and Convenience for Consumers

Having many products listed online means that the savvy Singaporean shopper can find better deals for similar products before making their purchase. To top it off, many eCommerce merchants are vying for a slice of Singapore’s eCommerce pie, either by carving their own niche or to capture the mass market.

In a study by iPrice5, one of the reasons why Singaporeans like to shop online is because they are able to access promotions and discounts easily. Similarly in a study by PwC in 20166, 60% of Singaporeans access social media to tap into promotional offerings and reviews before making the purchase.

Singaporeans also enjoy the ability to find products that cannot be bought locally. In Paypal’s 2018 study, 73% of online shoppers7 in Singapore have bought items from overseas online stores. Thus the convenience in accessing these items and getting them delivered straight to the shopper’s doorstep cannot be overstated.

In the same iPrice study in 2017, they have also found that 18% of Singaporean shoppers do so because they need to fix something urgently.

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, same day domestic shipping is a feature that Singaporeans can afford. 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.

2. Popularity of Cashless Payment Methods

When it comes to paying for goods online, Singaporeans are spoiled for choice. The availability of payment methods like credit cards, e-payments, and bank transfers make it easier for customers to pay for things online.

Additionally, the presence of global e-payment 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.

While the majority of Singaporeans prefer to pay using credit cards (67%) in a 2018 study by Worldpay8, other methods that are accessible to them include e-payments (10%), cash on delivery (5%), and bank transfer (10%). Singaporeans tend to favour using credit cards as it allows them to maximise the rewards programme offered by their credit card provider.

On top of credit card penetration, bigger players like Singapore’s authorities and banks9 have also taken the task to convert Singapore into a cashless society. Initiatives such as PayNow10 among others are underway, such as a common QR code to make it easy for individuals and businesses to use the service.

With that said, it doesn’t hurt to offer cash on delivery as a payment option if you are thinking of expanding your e-commerce shop into Singapore.

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% literate11 according to the latest statistics from Singstat in 2015.

Furthermore, Singapore consistently ranks well as a transportation hub.12 Not only are Singapore’s ports one of the busiest in the world13, Singapore’s Changi Airport has been voted the best in the world consistently14, cinching the award in 201915 as well. Their air cargo division also ranks within the top 20 in the world16 in 2014.

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%17, the accessibility and convenience of a physical store18 make them a competitor to eCommerce stores.

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 products19 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 compare5 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 reviews19 before making their purchase like most Southeast Asian shoppers.

So what can you do to ensure that you overcome these roadblocks if you decide to enter Singapore?

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 Story20 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.

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  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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