Tampines HDB shops launch free Wi-Fi.
The bakery at the foot of the block may not be where you usually surf the Internet and shop online.
But that is the idea in Tampines Street 21, where small businesses have decided not to play second fiddle anymore to their heavyweight competition.
The heartland shopping neighbourhood officially went online yesterday when the Tampines Merchant Association (TMA) launched a free Wi-Fi network for business owners and customers.
With a price tag of about $250,000 for five years of subscription and maintenance, the association is banking on it to raise the profile of the Housing Board businesses and help them pull in more customers.
The set-up includes 61 routers, and some shopkeepers even volunteered to chip in for the cost, said TMA chairman Kwek Hong Lim, 40.
The move is part of an ongoing push to level the playing field with e-commerce and shopping malls.
Already, the neighbourhood, with about 200 shops in five blocks, has put up 18 digital signboards to display shop directories, promotions and announcements.
The new Wi-Fi service will first direct users to a registration and log-in page, and then to the merchant association's official website, where they can browse retail promotions and discounts offered in the area.
"We are facing a lot of challenges from online businesses and malls," said Mr Kwek, who owns the Yes Supermarket chain in Tampines.
He said: "As long as we can get eyeballs on this portal, we can spin off into a lot of other opportunities."
This is just the beginning, he told The Straits Times.
Also in the pipeline is a mobile app to make online purchases from shops in the area, and book appointments at places like the neighbourhood dental clinic or beauty salon.
The merchant associations of other heartland areas have approached TMA to inquire about their technological efforts, he said. "We'll be happy to help. It's a pilot here and it can be duplicated because we already have the know-how."
But feasibility depends on many factors such as cost, and whether the merchants are interested.
The Wi-Fi network was officially launched yesterday by Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, North East District Mayor Teo Ser Luck, and Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui.
About 3,000 users have already registered since its soft launch about two weeks ago. "We are expecting tens of thousands of users as time passes," said Mr Kwek.
Shopkeepers and shoppers alike cheered the new link to the virtual world. "I'm already using it," said Ms Chen Xiao Qin, 35, a shop assistant at a clothes shop in Block 201D, Tampines Street 21. "Customers can also easily WhatsApp photos of the clothes here to their friends before deciding whether to buy."
Madam Zainab Mat Raby, 51, who owns a Muslim apparel shop in Block 201E, said free Wi-Fi will help her save money. "I use a lot of mobile data to communicate with my suppliers from Malaysia so, of course, this is good."
Housewife and Tampines resident Sharon Teo, 33, said she is all for it. "I take my children for music classes and tuition here. The Wi-Fi will help me kill time while I wait. Hopefully, this will also keep the small businesses like my favourite bubble tea shop alive."
Source: The Straits Times