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Updated 9th July 2021 – by Benedict Leong
From people who shop online for hard-to-find products to the ones who go to great lengths to get the best deals, Singapore’s shoppers are as diverse as their country’s multiracial makeup.
With that, Singapore’s eCommerce scene has been flourishing recently, driven by many factors ranging from its robust logistics infrastructure, good spending power, and more recently, the safe-distancing regulations caused by the pandemic.
In fact, Singapore’s high average annual revenue per online shopper amongst Southeast Asian nations bodes well for international e-commerce merchants looking to dip their toes into Southeast Asian e-commerce.1 Because of the country’s well-developed infrastructure, online sellers can get a taste of what eCommerce is like in a developed market like Singapore.
So let’s meet some of these online shoppers in Singapore, learn why they shop online, and find out which platforms they prefer.
Singaporeans are avid online shoppers, with nearly 3 in 4 of Singaporean internet users aged 16 and above having shopped online according to Hootsuite/We Are Social. Among them, 73% have bought from overseas online stores.2
Within this group, there’s a nearly equal split between female shoppers (49%) and male shoppers (51%), most of whom are young working adults. More than a third of Singapore’s online shoppers are aged between 25 and 34 years old (34.3%). This is followed by the 34 – 44 age group (23.9%), then the 18 – 24 age group (23.3%). The older generation makes up the remaining online shoppers – 45 to 54-year olds making up 14% with the final 4.45 being 55 to 64-year olds.3
From this, you could derive that the typical online shopper in Singapore belongs to the digitally savvy generation. Social-media savvy and well-connected, having a presence on the platforms they frequent could give your brand or store a boost. We have a list of the most popular social media platforms in Singapore in a later part of our article.
With the profile of a typical Singaporean shopper in mind, it begs the question, why do these young Singaporeans shop online? To answer this, let’s look into our Singaporean shopper’s persona, Meilian.
Before Covid-19 hit, Meilian, a Singaporean working adult in her late 20’s would find days when she is too busy at work to head to a mall for her well-deserved dose of retail therapy, even if the Great Singapore Sale is going on. While she enjoys getting a good discount for her purchases, she knows even better deals are available online, like 25% of her Singaporean cohorts according to iPrice’s study.4
Below are some of the main reasons why Singaporeans shop online:
As of the time of writing (July 2021), Singapore has gone through multiple rounds of tightening and loosening social distancing regulations in response to daily caseloads. Currently, dine-in sizes are being planned to be increased from 2 to 5, but fortunately, physical stores could remain open during this phase albeit with more safe-distancing measures in place.5
During Singapore’s first full lockdown period, known as the circuit breaker, which began on 7th April 2020, most brick and mortar shops were ordered to close.6 Restaurants and other eateries were limited to takeaways only. Most shops were only allowed to reopen from June 19th onwards.7
During the 2 month-long full lockdown, many needed to turn to online shopping for the first time. According to Google’s e-Conomy SEA 2020 report, eCommerce usage spiked by 80 per cent during the lockdown period.8 A report by Rakuten Insights and Dia Brands in 2020 found that 45 per cent of their Singaporean respondents preferred online shopping to shopping at a physical store.9
The lockdown saw people needing to adjust their lives to spending most of their time at home. Internet usage went up from 3.6 hours to 4.5 hours a day on average in Singapore. 30 per cent of internet users were new to using internet servers, and 91 per cent of these new consumers were likely to continue using at least one digital service post-Covid-19.10
The early days of the lockdown saw Singaporeans mostly stocking up on essentials like groceries, snacks, personal hygiene items and health supplements. Prior to the lockdown, split-work arrangements were also being enforced, which saw demand for work-from-home related products like keyboards, monitors and the like increase. Demand for items only accelerated once the lockdown had kicked in. Fitness-related items such as exercise equipment11 and yoga mats12 also increased as people weren’t allowed to go to gyms.
Even after restrictions began easing, Google’s report stated that eCommerce usage was still 20% above pre-lockdown period. Average hours spent on the internet was at 4.1 hours a day as opposed to 3.6 hours a day prior to the lockdown.13 This shows that increased eCommerce usage among Singaporeans will be sticking around, with some reported even getting into the habit of watching livestream selling from platforms like Facebook.
With restrictions beginning to ease again this July 2021, it is difficult to say if they’ll tighten again this year. With many lasting changes to how people live and how business is being conducted, it’s likely that many of the habits garnered during the lockdown could persist in the near future.
But the pandemic has also brought along concerns about finances. Nearly 2 in 3 Singaporeans (64%) still harbour concerns about job security, and almost half (47%) want to switch to lower-priced brands where possible.14 This ends up reinforcing Singaporeans’ love of great deals and discounts.
From Meilian’s experience, she has found that online discounts tend to be more attractive than those in physical retail stores.15 For stores like Lazada, their flash sales can go up to 90%,16 as opposed to some stores that rely on older techniques like offering discounts only on the second item bought.17 On top of that, Singapore’s high internet speeds mean that the ability to access multiple eCommerce storefronts to compare prices between them is easier than ever.
During the Singles Day Sale in 2020 in Singapore, Lazada saw around 16,000 items sold a minute in the first 11 minutes of the sale.18 This is on the back of 11.11 sales increasing year after year from 2016 to 2018.19 This means that online shoppers like Meilian would have anticipated and participated in the campaign period by grabbing as many discounted goods as she could.
With global eCommerce platforms widely available in Singapore, international sales periods known for their massive discounts and promotions like Black Friday have also become commonplace for Singapore’s shoppers. Criteo reported that the 2020’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday in Singapore saw sales jump by 197% compared to a similar period the month before.20 This has also affected brick and mortar stores such that shops that conduct Black Friday sales have done better than the month-long Great Singapore Sale.21
Meilian also likes to shop online to gain access to overseas goods. By buying from other countries, she is able to gain access to goods that are normally not found in brick and mortar stores, similar to why almost half of the global populace shop online.22 In some cases, products could be cheaper in other countries or released earlier there than they would in Singapore.
According to JP Morgan, 73% of Singapore’s online buys are from cross-border eCommerce.23 In a March 2020 study by Statista, it mentioned that the market share of cross-border eCommerce purchases from Singaporeans were:24
Forrester Research estimates that 60% of people in Singapore make cross-border eCommerce purchases.25 In their study, they estimate that Singaporeans prefer products from the following countries:
It’s been a gruelling month at work for Meilian, and finally, the day has come – Pay Day. Knowing that hard work shouldn’t go unrewarded, she treats herself by going online to do some well-deserved shopping. This habit coincides with iPrice’s findings that Singaporeans like to treat themselves (19%), and tend to do so at the end of the month where there is an increase in online shopping activity.26
To cater to Singaporean online shoppers like Meilian it therefore helps to have a variety of goods that are price competitive and hard to find. Now that you know why Singaporeans shop online, you’ll need to know how they shop online.
On top of that, Meilian follows her friends’ social media profiles religiously. She’s usually the first to stay on top of reviews and knowing which online shops to support and avoid based on her friends’ status updates.
iPrice Group reveals that 60% of Singaporean online shoppers would look for products via search engines like Google.27 Usually already having a type of product or brand in mind, Singaporean shoppers would search for various reviews, features and price comparisons to make sure that they are getting the best product at the best deal possible.
On days where Meilian isn’t looking for a specific blazer to compliment her black shirt, she would consume content from her friends’ posts in the form of Instagram content and their #ootd’s, which is the hashtag used for a person’s stylish outfit for the day.
In Hootsuite/We Are Social’s report in 2021, 84.4% of Singaporeans are active social media users.28 To add to that, Singaporean shoppers are the most vocal users amongst Southeast Asians when it comes to e-commerce shopping.29 They are most likely to complain if an e-commerce order goes wrong (34.7%) but they are also two times more likely than Indonesians to share their joy of e-commerce shopping if the delivery meets or exceeds their expectations.
This corroborates with iPrice and Parcel Perform’s findings in 2019 that Singaporeans are generally happy with the e-commerce delivery experience with 75% giving a 5/5 star rating, but this has to be backed up by timely deliveries within 0-3 days.30
Because of this, Meilian tends to stay away from e-commerce stores that have bad reviews from frustrated customers, while going for those that her friends recommend highly. This forms part of their tendency to be meticulous about online listings, where 48% of Singaporeans would compare listings before making their online purchase,31 and 57% of respondents in PwC’s survey rely on reviews via social media in order to determine the authenticity of the product.32
The average Singaporean shopper is digitally savvy. 4 in 5 Singaporeans are on social media. Below are the top social media, messaging platforms, and video sharing platforms they use the most:33
Gaining a presence on their most used social media platforms can help, but what’s also worth noting is the high prevalence of messaging apps. Developing campaigns material to be shareable or viral via messaging apps could be a measure worth considering if you are thinking of expanding and localising your online store to a Singaporean audience.
With developed infrastructures in place like high internet speeds and the prevalence of cashless payment methods, Singaporeans tend to take their comforts for granted. Because of that, they would have high expectations when it comes to the online shopping experience. You can find out more about Singaporeans’ payment preferences in our Singapore eCommerce overview piece.
Singaporean shoppers like Meilian would want to have more flexibility and convenience in their online shopping experience.34 For instance, Meilian wants eCommerce platforms to give her options when it comes to delivery addresses as she might not be around to collect her parcel at home and would like it sent to the office instead. She would want her office receptionist around to collect a delivery on her behalf if she’s away on a business trip.
This goes in line with findings that state 52% of Singapore’s online shoppers want the ability to select a delivery location that is convenient for them.35 Among other things, around 63% of Singaporeans will also review a merchant’s return policy before checking out their carts online. This corroborates with our previous statement that shoppers like Meilian are meticulous about which online storefront they are shopping from.
Shipping domestically within Singapore? Janio offers domestic SG returns services. To find out how this works for both you and your shoppers head, head over to our product update post.
To win over your Singaporean customers, it helps to address negative feedback in a prompt and personable way, while providing various payment options. On top of that, you should have an online storefront that can save multiple delivery addresses and have a robust return policy to optimise the online shopping experience for them.
Most Singaporeans do their shopping after work hours, although Meilian sometimes unwinds by window shopping online during her 3pm coffee break.36 In order to not get caught shopping online during working hours, she would browse on her mobile phone to do her online shopping. However, she would prefer the larger screen of her personal laptop if she were shopping at home.
There are conflicting sources on whether Singaporeans prefer to shop online via desktop or on mobile. In a 2018 survey by Picodi2, they have found that Singaporeans preferred online shopping on desktops (62%) compared to their smartphones (35%). But the 2017 study by iPrice21 revealed that 60% preferred shopping on smartphones whereas 34% preferred shopping on desktops.
With the prevalence of shopping apps by online shopping giants like Lazada, Shopee, and Qoo10, shopping online via one’s mobile is popular in Singapore. According to Digital 2021 Singapore, while 79.7% of internet users in Singapore have purchased products online via any device, 56.9% of them have done so via a mobile phone.37
Thus, it helps to have your website optimised for both desktop and mobile screens, and it helps to take a leaf from Singapore’s popular online shopping platforms. The top 3 platforms, Qoo10, Lazada, and Shopee, are good examples to follow with user-friendly interfaces on both desktop and mobile screens.38
Locally, Singapore is a hot bed for eCommerce stores and platforms, and the largest ones consistently find themselves at the top spots by the number of average monthly visits they get.39 In Q1 2021, the top 5 eCommerce sites in Singapore were:
On top of this, Brand.coms also do well with Singaporeans, with notable ones including Courts Singapore and Love, Bonito, which are 8th and 10th in terms of monthly web visits respectively in Q1 2021.
Additionally, international shops like eBay and Alibaba’s various storefronts like AliExpress and Taobao are also popular amongst Singaporean shoppers. Ebay enjoyed 894 thousand monthly visits on average in Q1 2021,40 while Taobao has an estimated 3 million monthly visits from Singapore alone based on information from Similarweb.41
If you want to enter Singapore’s e-commerce market, you might want to consider which types of online platforms you would want to use to attract Singaporean consumers. Listing on online marketplace platforms like Qoo10 and Shopee means that you can participate in the platform’s discount campaigns and win customers over in the short term. However, if you’re in a more specific product vertical, such as fashion for example, then selling on platforms like Zalora can help attract the right type of audience.
However, to have full control of the brand experience, it helps to have a brand.com website of your own in order to not dilute your product’s branding and purchase experience for your customers. Brand.com’s works best when it comes to cultivating brand loyalty amongst online shoppers. Tools like Shopify and Magento can help to customise your storefront to give it a brand identity and help you to stand out from your competitors.
Thus, with the right types of products and excellent service, your e-commerce store can capture your share of Singaporean shoppers like Meilian. If you exceed their expectations, you stand the chance of getting a bigger return on investment with great reviews and advocates for your online brand.
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