July 1, 2022

Singapore aims to become a leading e-commerce hub in Asia – but challenges may lie ahead.

As the pandemic changes consumer behavior around the world, more and more people in the region are shopping online and the digital economy in Southeast Asia is growing significantly.

“E-commerce in Southeast Asia – it’s booming. But what sets Singapore apart is its policies and initiatives that help create an environment for the digital industry and economy to thrive, ”said Ben King, Country Director, Google Singapore.

Still, the city-state is facing a shortage of digital talent – and that’s critical to its ambition to become a global e-commerce player, he told CNBC’s Christine Tan.

The problem we are seeing is not necessarily jobs, but skills. There is an urgent need to help the workforce build digital skills to take on these jobs.

Ben King

Country Director at Google Singapore

To address this issue, the government has partnered with Google as part of the Skills Ignition SG initiative to provide job training for those looking to pursue a digital career.

“The only challenge we see in realizing this vision of truly becoming a much more meaningful and progressive regional e-commerce hub in Singapore is talent development,” said King. “The problem we’re seeing isn’t necessarily jobs – it’s skills. There is an urgent need to help the workforce build digital skills to take on these jobs. “

A group of online Black Friday shopping purchases, photographed in delivery boxes filled with Styrofoam packing pellets, captured on September 13, 2019.

Neil Godwin | Future release | Getty Images

The U.S. tech giant has also focused on retraining people affected by the pandemic.

“We really developed this program to meet Covid’s needs in real time. It’s really geared towards laying off people who have become unemployed and giving them the opportunity to train over six or nine years. Month window, “said King.

“We are trying to develop skills that we believe will be critical to the development and development of e-commerce across the region.”

Shifts in consumer trends

Despite the pandemic headwind, internet usage continued to grow across Southeast Asia.

According to an e-commerce report on Southeast Asia by Google, Temasek, and global consulting firm Bain & Company, around 40 million new users in the region came to the Internet last year.

The pandemic has led to a “permanent and massive digital acceptance surge,” the report says.

About 36% – or more than 1 in 3 consumers of digital services – were new to online services. 90 percent of them intend to continue using these services after the pandemic, the report said.

The three pillars of the Smart Nation (are) really a digital economy, a digital government – but also a digital society.

Selena Ling

Chief Economist, OCBC Bank

For Singapore to benefit from these trends, several factors need to come together to fuel this growth, said Selena Ling, chief economist at OCBC Bank in Singapore.

“You need a fairly internet savvy population, high mobile penetration (and) a good internet connection that is affordable,” she said. Many offers in terms of goods and services are also essential, she added.

Young woman taking perfume from cosmetic gift box. She is sitting on the floor next to the laptop at home

YakobchukOlena | iStock | Getty Images

As part of Singapore’s e-commerce strategy, the government plans to deploy two 5G networks across the city-state by 2025. 5G networks are the next generation of mobile internet connectivity that promises higher speeds.

They will form “the backbone” of Singapore’s digital economy and increase the capacity of the infrastructure to manage large online sales orders internationally, according to the Department of Commerce and Industry.

The Singapore government has taken the lead by adopting a “smart nation” strategy, OCBC’s Ling said.

“The three pillars of the Smart Nation (are) really a digital economy, a digital government – but also a digital society. So it covers all the requirements for a successful e-commerce strategy, ”she explained.