F&B, retail businesses in CBD feel pinch as people work from home amid coronavirus concerns
SINGAPORE: Valentine’s Day is the occasion when Mdm Wong Li Hua makes the most money in the year.
But the florist was visibly frustrated when she spoke to CNA. Sales at her shop at The Arcade have fallen by 50 per cent compared to the same period last year after Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) alert level to Orange last Friday, Mdm Wong said.
Since the announcement, companies islandwide commenced their business continuity plans to limit the spread of the COVID-19. Many, including the financial institutions and technology giants that have offices in the Central Business District (CBD), have arranged to split employees’ shifts or have them work from home.
Besides fewer walk-in customers because those who work in the area are staying at home, the closure of the linkways between The Arcade and Clifford Centre has caused some confusion among her customers, Mdm Wong said.
Some who finally made their way to her shop said they thought her store was closed, the florist said.
“Who isn’t worried,” Mdm Wong said in Mandarin of the virus creating a dent in her business. “Every year, we rely on this occasion to earn money.”
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At lunchtime on Wednesday (Feb 12) afternoon, the CBD was still visibly bustling with office workers, but most owners and staff of the 13 eateries and retailers located in the area CNA spoke to said that sales are down anywhere between 10 and 50 per cent since the beginning of this week.
Other shopkeepers at The Arcade also saw a dip in sales.
At minimart Haja T&T Trading, its owner Haja Aladudeen said that against last week's records, his daily takings have tumbled by 40 per cent. He does not know what to do to shore up his business and can only fret in the meantime, he said.
ZTP Ginseng Birdnest supervisor Loh Ken Tiam said that the Chinese medicinal shop has seen daily earnings dip by 30 per cent compared to last week. On a normal day, the shop takes in about S$2,000 to S$3,000, he said.
Over at Tanjong Pagar, the situation was similar.
Tomy Chen, the co-owner of Pho Stop at Downtown Gallery, said that sales fell by 20 per cent on Monday, and 30 per cent on Tuesday and Wednesday compared to the same period last week.
If dine-in sales continue to fall, Mr Chen said some staff will be transferred to their delivery kitchens located at Lavender and Katong. He is hoping that an increase in demand for food deliveries will offset the dip at their CBD outlet.
Lum Von-Nie, who runs the Basil & Mint hawker stall at Amoy Road Food Centre, said that delivery orders have helped to cushion some of the dip in revenue. For example, she earned 20 per cent less on Tuesday week-on-week, but deliveries cut her losses by 10 per cent.
“It’s good that the authorities are quick to respond to false news, so hopefully that helps assure the public that there is no reason not to eat out,” Ms Lum, who runs the stall alone, said, “But yes, (I’m) bracing for the worst."
It is a difficult situation to be in, especially as F&B businesses operate on thin profit margins, said Mr Willin Low, owner of Relish@Frasers Tower. His lunch business has dropped by 45 to 55 per cent. Mr Low said he is in talks with other restaurant owners to see if they can come up with a plan collectively to tide through this period.
“Hopefully regular customers and landlords will support restaurants to keep them in business,” he added.
But for some others, it is business as usual.
One Korean grocery store shop assistant, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak, said that sales have been brisk, especially over the weekend when people came to stock up on rice and instant noodles.
OFFICE STAFF WORKING FROM HOME
Last Friday, the Singapore Government moved the DORSCON status to Orange. The Ministry of Health urged companies to “step up” their business continuity plan, with suggestions that employees could telecommute or be divided into separate teams.
Banks, technology firms and property consultancies with offices in the CBD have heeded the advice and kickstarted their segregation strategies.
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United Overseas Bank (UOB) said in a media statement on Monday (Feb 10) that it activated its business continuity plans for all critical functions and services, with employees working from split sites, from home and on split shifts.
Similar measures have been put in place at DBS, according to a spokesperson. Its 12,000 employees across Singapore, either work from home or from separate sites.
A DBS employee was confirmed on Wednesday to be infected by the coronavirus, prompting the bank to evacuate 300 of its staff members from its offices on the 43rd floor at Tower 3 of Marina Bay Financial Centre.
Twitter, whose Asia-Pacific headquarters is located in CapitaGreen, said that they have a “cross-functional operational taskforce in place (to) take necessary measures, including work from home policies, to protect our people and our business operations”.
Tech giant Facebook said that they have “taken steps to protect the health and safety of our employees”, although the company already has a flexible working approach in place. Microsoft noted a similar arrangement in their response.
Facebook and Microsoft’s Singapore offices are located at Marina One and Frasers Towers, respectively.
Real estate firm Colliers International, which has 350 employees in Singapore and an office in Asia Square, said that it has encouraged all its staff to work from home following the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
“This flexible work arrangement will remain in place until the end of March 2020 and we will review the need to extend it,” its managing director Tang Wei Leng said.
Staff based at CBRE’s offices are also split into teams who are either working from home or at the office, the company said. Employees who are pregnant and those with prior respiratory conditions will work from home.
The property consultancy has about 1,600 employees in Singapore. Four hundred are based in one of its two offices at Paya Lebar Quarter or Six Battery Road. The rest of the estimated 1,200 are based off-site in clients’ offices.