With the full relaxation of COVID-19 guidelines and the return of tourists, Singapore’s retail sector reported a boost of 12.1% in April, marking continued momentum from March numbers, which reported an 8.8% increase.
Aside from the aforementioned factors, Singapore’s continued investment into digitalization—both before and during the pandemic—has brought promising returns for the retail industry, particularly in the areas of digital payments. However, one area in which the retail sector is struggling is with manpower, which has been highlighted even more in recent months.
Singapore’s Manpower Problem
According to Reuters, the number of foreign workers in Singapore fell by 235,700 between December 2019 and September 2021 due to a host of factors, the COVID-19 pandemic being the most prominent. With lockdown measures in place, foreign workers went back to their home countries, leaving Singapore’s retail and F&B industries particularly hard up for employees once quarantine rules eased.
Now struggling to find workers, business owners turned to technology for a solution—specifically, robotics solutions, which can be deployed to not only increase operational efficiency, but also help with customer-facing tasks to avoid any further pandemic risk.
An example is Ella, a “robot barista” created by Crown Digital to serve specialty coffee to customers in around 30 metro stations across Singapore. Ella, who is able to serve up to 200 cups of coffee per hour, operates via an autonomous arm that allows the robot to detect issues like spillage and special orders.
Another example of automation in retail is Pick&Go, which was founded in 2019 as Singapore’s first “AI unmanned convenience store.” Pick&Go is labelled as “cashier-less” and uses QR codes, facial recognition, and digital payments for customers to easily transact without the need for human resources.
Investing in an Automated Future
According to the YCP Solidiance article “Business Trends in Singapore for 2022,” evolved digitalization—particularly the integration of technology outlined in ASEAN’s Consolidated Strategy on the Fourth Industrial revolution—will be the focus of further investment from both the public and private sectors.
Already, the National Research Foundation (NRF) has announced that it is investing 150 million SGD into the AI.SG initiative, which will aid the country in boosting its artificial intelligence capabilities by incentivizing start-ups to create innovative new tools and solutions. While not directly stated, this effort is aiming to help impact Singapore positively through innovations that will address its current manpower shortage.
Focusing on digital transformation rooted in Industry 4.0 is set to change the current landscape of Singapore retail, shifting towards intuitive and machine-aided innovations that can address issues with manpower, efficiency, and operations.
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You can also read these reports about Singapore’s post-pandemic business recovery: