‘The pie is getting smaller’: Some heartland stalls fret over supermarkets coming onboard CDC voucher scheme
SINGAPORE: For Ms Nicole Sia, who owns a small clothing store in Ang Mo Kio, it was a relief to see more sales trickle in after Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers were launched last December.
Each Singaporean household received S$100 in vouchers, which are meant to help with their daily expenses while giving heartland hawkers and merchants a boost.
“With the vouchers, people spend more,” said the owner of Peach Fashion, adding that some even spent the full S$100 at her store during the Chinese New Year period.
It added up to a 10 per cent increase in sales – which Ms Sia hopes will happen again with a new round of vouchers launched on Wednesday.
But she is also concerned that small businesses like hers will get a smaller slice of the pie when shoppers are allowed to use future tranches of CDC vouchers at major supermarkets in 2023 and 2024.
“The vouchers should be used to support small businesses instead of big chains because they don’t need the help," said Ms Sia.
"Now it’s hard times, the help should go more to us instead.”
Mr Jackson Tan, the owner of a nearby optical shop Vision Image, felt the same way.
He said business has been tough the past two years, but sales have grown 10 per cent in the last five months, thanks to the CDC vouchers.
“I don’t think (the move) will be good for us ... When people go to the supermarket, at one time they can use up everything because there are a lot of things to buy,” he added.
Mr Nelson Goh, who runs Ryffles Optical in Ang Mo Kio, said: “(Major supermarkets) already have such good business. If you include them, you can see the pie is getting smaller and smaller.”
There are currently more than 16,000 hawkers and merchants that accept CDC vouchers.
At Chinatown Complex, hawker Felicia Lee agreed that the move to include supermarkets could draw customers away from smaller businesses – although she understood the rationale behind the change.
Ms Lee, who owns congee stall Da Jia Shi said: “I myself get CDC vouchers and I was thinking how come NTUC, Sheng Siong, don’t have. I’m also a consumer. I myself would spend it at the supermarket … Everyone will go there.”
The move comes in response to feedback from residents, said Ms Low Yen Ling, chairperson of the Mayors’ Committee and Mayor of the South West District, on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, she told the media that supporting small businesses “remains a key focus” as authorities prepare to launch the next set of vouchers, worth S$200, next year.
One possible solution could be to limit how much can be spent at supermarkets, said Ms Low, who is also Minister of State for Trade and Industry.
NOT ALL BUSINESSES WORRIED ABOUT THE MOVE
But not all businesses were equally concerned by the decision to include major supermarkets.
Ms Toh Pei Ru, the manager of kitchenware shop Poh Hua Industrial in Ang Mo Kio, said: “If they need to buy things, they will still come and buy the pots, whether they got voucher or no voucher.”
Her store has seen sales grow by about 5 to 10 per cent with the vouchers, but she added that the change will be good because "because some people really need to eat, more than to buy more things".
Mr Anwardeen Sulaiman, who owns a noodle and vegetable stall in Geylang Serai, also said: “I think it makes no difference … Even without the voucher, they will still come to market. They still have to spend money also.”
HAVE THE VOUCHERS REALLY HELPED BUSINESSES?
Ms Low noted that the CDC vouchers have given heartland businesses a boost, citing how the Ang Mo Kio Constituency Merchants Association saw a 15 per cent to 20 per cent rise in customer footfall in the first two weeks of the vouchers’ launch last December.
Over in the west, Bukit Gombak Traders' Association saw an increase of 10 per cent to 20 per cent in revenue and customers.
While some have indeed seen noticeable growth in sales with the vouchers, others have not. They include Mr Anwardeen, who has not seen “a big difference” in his sales.
Neither has Ms Feng Ping, an employee of hair salon Art Coiffure. This could be because people only get haircuts when they need to, instead of doing so just because they have vouchers, she said.
Mr Goh of Ryffles Optical has not seen a meaningful change in sales too, perhaps because footfall is not high in his area, he said.
He added: “(The Government) gives out a lot of money, but it’s scattered everywhere.”
At Sembawang Hills Hawker Centre, hawkers CNA spoke to also reported varying experiences with the vouchers.
The owner of noodle stall Huey Peng Hiang, who only wanted to be known as Mr Li, said there has been no significant change in sales, adding that there might be a bigger increase at hawker centres that are more popular.
Mrs Karen Ong, who runs Khoon’s Katong Laksa & Seafood Soup, said she receives an average of about S$20 to S$30 in vouchers per day.
“Business did pick up, but it could be because of the reopening of places also,” she said.