Skip to main content
Best News Website or Mobile Service
WAN-IFRA Digital Media Awards Worldwide
Best News Website or Mobile Service
Digital Media Awards Worldwide
Hamburger Menu




Payment discrepancies, delayed transactions: Hawkers explain why they insist on cash payments

Some hawkers are also afraid of being scammed, says Makansutra food guide founder KF Seetoh.

Payment discrepancies, delayed transactions: Hawkers explain why they insist on cash payments

Signs for cash payments at two stalls in China Square Food Court stall. (Photos: CNA)

SINGAPORE: After two months of finding discrepancies between the earnings reported by his stall assistants and received in his bank account, hawker Anthony Low decided to go back to cash-only transactions. 

Mr Low is among the hawkers who tried digital payments but were put off by the challenges of incorporating the technology into a trade that typically transacts in cash. 

The 55-year-old hawker, who owns three stalls selling ngoh hiang prawn crackers, said his assistants would monitor and record the e-payments received from customers. But the amount they reported at the end of the day did not tally with the numbers in Mr Low's bank account. 

Apart from inconsistencies, other hawkers that CNA spoke to also cited the need for immediate cash and their lack of understanding of technology as reasons for restricting transactions to cash. 

The issue of cash-only payments among hawkers, while not new, was thrust into the spotlight recently by former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng in a Facebook post last month. Mr Cheng criticised stalls at a coffee shop within the central business district for only accepting cash. 


CNA visited one of the stalls in Mr Cheng's post, a beverage stall at China Square Food Centre. A sign had been put up at the stall stating that as of May 9, 2022, all transactions had to be made in cash and that PayNow would no longer be accepted. 

At hawker stalls, e-payments are typically made by scanning a QR code displayed at the stall front with a payment app such as PayNow, a real-time funds transfer service.

A worker at the stall told CNA that some customers refused to show the transaction page as evidence of their e-payment. 

During busy hours, it is also more efficient to collect cash rather than wait and confirm that an e-payment was successful, the worker said. 

Cash-only food stalls make up the minority in Singapore's push for hawkers to go digital. Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said in Parliament on Mar 2 that more than 70 per cent of cooked food stall holders in hawker centres accepted e-payments.

Support is available at 37 hawker centres to help hawkers adopt technology, Dr Khor said.

The move towards cashless transactions for hawkers began years ago. 

In 2020, a Hawkers Go Digital programme was launched to encourage the adoption of e-payments. The government initiative included cash bonuses for hawkers who achieve a certain number of digital transactions.

At Amoy Street Food Centre, in the heart of the central business district, signs on the walls proclaim that it is a cashless food centre. While most stalls there had QR codes displayed visibly, CNA found a handful that only accept cash.

One such stall holder, Madam Tuan Ngap Eng, said she has heard of e-payments but did not want the trouble of dealing with potential technical issues. 

The 84-year-old, who has been a hawker most of her life, said that she would not know what to do or who to turn to should problems arise. 

"I heard from other people that some people cheat and don't actually pay," said the Hainanese chicken rice stall owner, referring to incidents where customers flash screenshots of past payments to deceive stalls into thinking they have paid. 

Another stall owner in the food centre, Mr Quek Siak Kang, said he only uses his mobile phone for calls and was not familiar with digital payments technology.

He would have continued using a basic Nokia phone had his child not bought him a smartphone, said the 61-year-old, who operates a Teochew kway chap stall.

Both hawkers said they handled stall operations by themselves and had no one to help with digital transactions. 


Ngoh hiang hawker Mr Low, who is also chairman of the hawker division for the Federation of Merchants' Association, said he has received feedback from member hawkers about similar problems.

"Sometimes there are Wi-Fi issues, like the phone is not working, all these things are happening on the ground," he said. 

Another problem Mr Low faces is transaction cut-off times and payments being reflected only days later.  

"Some of the transactions they take two or three days to come in. It's not immediate so if I want to check my bank ... I am unable to know (how much money I received that day)."

He is also worried about transaction fees cutting into his slim profit margin. These e-payment merchant fees for hawkers are being paid by the Government only until Dec 31 this year. 

"We realise all these problems and ... as chairman (of the association), we are also trying to talk to IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority) and NETS to try to make these things more perfect," he said. 

As younger people switch to e-payments, the older generation of hawkers will lose more customers if they only accept cash, Mr Low admitted.

"This initiative is good and beneficial to all hawkers, but there are still some loopholes and some things we need to finetune."

Founder of the Makansutra food guide KF Seetoh said many hawkers were afraid of being scammed. 

"Especially older hawkers, they largely have mistrust for digital systems because the newspaper, television news all (play) up all these scam stories so they are very fearful. And every hawker has such thin margins, they'd rather put cash under their pillows.

"(Digital systems) hold the cash and hawkers need cash every day to buy ingredients," Mr Seetoh added. 

Hawkers cannot afford to give a cut to digital platforms and still keep their prices low, he said. "How much more can they afford to lose with their thin margins?" 

Mr Seetoh said hawkers should stick to whichever payment mode suits them. 

"I would ask them if it’s convenient, (cashless payments are) good if ... you cater to a new generation because of the demographic of where your shop is, your stall is, can. If it works, go for it. 

"Otherwise, you are still catering to the masses (in the) heartlands and ... the majority stick to cash because a lot of the customers don’t even know how to use online payment systems." 

Source: CNA/wt(cy)


Also worth reading