Initiatives for e-commerce businesses in Singapore

Singapore is one of ASEAN’s most prominent e-commerce hubs, with an innovation-first focus and robust infrastructural support. Here are important initiatives that most companies can leverage to ride the online wave.

E-commerce initiatives in Singapore for businesses

With close to 100% internet penetration and a mature online payment and logistics ecosystem, Singapore is one of ASEAN’s premier markets for the electronic commerce (e-commerce) industry. Singapore’s top six online retailers have monthly visits of 1 million or more, with top site Qoo10 receiving close to 10 million visits a month. 

Research by Google and Temasek shows that Singapore’s e-commerce industry will be worth S$7.5 billion by 2025 – five times the current industry value, and more than the current net worth of Singapore’s casino industry (S$4 billion).

To encourage the growth of this up-and-coming industry the Singapore government has launched initiatives to help e-commerce companies and online retailers looking to expand or set up in the country.

1) Retail Industry Transformation Map

Traditionally, e-commerce was seen as a competitor to physical retail. But in Singapore, where innovation is a national agenda, the approach is ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.” The Singapore government aims to actively grow the retail industry, and launched the Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM) in 2016.

The Retail ITM contains key strategies to support innovation, agility, and technology adoption efforts in Singapore’s retail sector. Under the Retail ITM, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore have developed support initiatives to grow two key areas:

  • Omni-channel retail and integrated digital ecosystem participation for physical retailers. For instance, DBS and Singtel jointly launched the 99% SME collaboration project, an business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce platform that gives SME retailers an online presence to sell goods and services, as well as facilitate payment and order fulfilment services.

    “Through this initiative, we aim to help at least 10,000 SMEs jump-start and accelerate their digital transformation,” said Andrew Lim, Singtel’s group enterprise and business group managing director.
  • Enhancing immersive and personalised customer experiences in physical retail locations, with the aid of suitable technologies (such as sensors, robotics and augmented reality). A pioneer project under this initiative is the Kampung Glam Collaboration, which was signed by IMDA, SPRING and the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI). 

    The first phase of the Kampung Glam project involved enhancing e-payment gateways, virtual tours with augmented-reality features, delivery services, and an integrated platform for point-of-sale services.

The Retail ITM’s main aim is to push more physical retailers into e-commerce and online retailing, creating a vibrant and competitive digital marketplace in Singapore. Businesses looking to enhance their digital presence and/or expand their digital footprint can benefit from collaboration projects under the Retail ITM.

2) Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE)

To assist e-commerce SMEs looking to expand their network and develop industry-specific skills, the private-led Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) was set up in 2014.

Formerly a government project under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), ACE has been revamped into a network of entrepreneurs, capitalists and professionals aiming to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore.

Guided by a board of directors from public and private organisations, ACE supports Singapore SMEs in three areas: 

  • An all-in access hub to connect Singapore SMEs with technology, funding and talent providers
  • Consultancies, clinics and workshops that offer advisory services to Singapore SMEs on scaling and internationalisation
  • A platform to facilitate co-innovation between Singapore SMEs and enterprises

Specific programmes offered by ACE include networking and mentorship programmes, a youth chapter, and legal clinics and accounting workshops. It also provides co-working zones, an ideation centre and meeting rooms for Singapore SMEs who need such facilities. 

One of ACE’s newest ventures is the ACE International Centre (ACEIC), a dedicated one-stop centre to support Singapore SMEs in international growth and expansion. The centre will facilitate partnership and market access opportunities for Singapore SMEs to connect to networks, partners, overseas markets and tailored programmes. 

In August 2018, ACEIC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Advantage Austria and Global Incubator Network (GIN). The MOU promotes Austria as a launchpad to Europe for Singapore SMEs, and conversely promotes Singapore as a launchpad to Asia for Austrian start-ups. 

Singapore SMEs looking for support to venture into the e-commerce and online retailing space can utilise the support and industry network that ACE provides to expand their presence and strengthen their capacities. 

3) National Trade Platform (NTP)

Trade facilitation is a key component for an effective e-commerce. However, legacy systems and regulations often hamper e-commerce efficiency, delaying delivery timelines and affecting customer satisfaction.

The National Trade Platform (NTP) is a national trade information management platform that enables businesses in Singapore to share and reuse secure data and documents among their business partners, as well as between them and the government.

The platform helps businesses in Singapore to streamline processes, reduce inefficiencies of manual trade document exchange, and use data analytics to draw business insights from their trade data. It also allows third-party service providers to provide and advertise value-added digital services to NTP account holders. 

One key partner in the NTP is trade software developer CrimsonLogic, who runs the GETS service. GETS helps companies digitise their trade documents, which reduces the need for manual verification and postage, speeding trade. It also comes programmed with customs requirements of different countries, eliminating the need for additional compliance checks.

“Trade compliance often involves the same set of data being re-used, and is prone to human error – which results in hefty fines and additional storage costs. GETS digitalises the customs and compliance processes involved with deliveries, which reduces errors, saves costs, and enables faster transaction and delivery windows. Our users have reported that it increased trade efficiency by 40%-60%,” said Francis Chan, Director of Corporate Communications and Admin at CrimsonLogic.

Singapore SMEs in the e-commerce space can benefit from the NTP in several ways. The NTP’s digitalisation of trade documents helps reduce the need to deal with custom checks, helping companies save time and money. This in turn increases on-time deliveries, which helps companies in service ratings and customer satisfaction levels.

Another benefit that Singapore SMEs can obtain from the NTP is the availability of digital services offered as a platform, which helps companies (both clients and vendors) to improve their digital capabilities at various levels of the supply chain and become stronger e-commerce providers.

4) SkillsFuture Skills Framework for Retail 

Skilled talent is the cornerstone to a successful e-commerce venture – having knowledgeable staff on board increases company productivity, customer satisfaction and helps retailers stand out amongst the stiff competition present in the industry. 

However, e-commerce companies often require specific skill sets that are not traditionally taught in institutions of higher learning, such as digital resource management, content development, and data analysis. Employees competent in such skills may be hard to come by - especially for Singapore SMEs.

To help Singapore SMEs source and cultivate skilled talent, national training agency SkillsFuture has expanded to include a retail-specific skills framework. The framework provides information on the following:

  • Sector information: information on trends and workforce profiles in the sector
  • Career pathways: vertical and lateral job progression options, with information on key tasks, skills and competencies required for each job
  • Training programmes for skills upgrading and mastery, both for new and existing employees

The SkillsFuture Skills Framework for Retail has specialised training courses dedicated to new entrants in the e-commerce and omni-channel retail sector. There is also a master list of 37 technical skills and competencies that SMEs need to look for when hiring talent, along with detailed job role descriptions.

By utilising the training programmes and skill maps that the SkillsFuture retail framework provides, Singapore SMEs hiring in the e-commerce sector will be able to recognise these skills and invest in training their employees for career development and skills upgrading.


Opportunities abound in Singapore’s e-commerce space.

If you are looking to set up or expand an e-commerce venture in Singapore, Hawksford can help.

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