Mom and Pop Stores in Singapore’s Little India Go Online

Singapore: Singapore is a compact island-state. Including the 62 surrounding islands – yes, it’s not just one island – it is just 722 square kilometres in area. It is about 50 kilometres across and 27 kilometres from North to South. For comparison, Delhi NCT (National Capital Territory) is twice as large.

Although there are minor issues and constant complaints by residents, public transport is generally efficient and covers the island adequately.

So, it is surprising that instead of taking a short walk or hopping onto the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) for a quick convenient ride to a good café or restaurant for a meal or a nearby comfortably airconditioned mall to shop, people in Singapore prefer to pay for food, clothes and groceries to be delivered to their homes. This online shopping
addiction has cultivated a thriving business for online shopping and delivery services.

There are a plethora of online service providers. If you are hungry, there’s Grab Food, Food Panda and Deliveroo who promises to serve your favourite food piping hot to wherever you are within 30 minutes. Redmart and Honest beercan both save you a trip to your local supermarket or if you prefer, you can also order groceries from the website of your favourite supermarket like Giant, FairPrice and Cold Storage who all provide delivery services. In addition, there are also virtual shopping malls like Lazada, Qoo10, Amazon and AliExpress as well as niche online malls like Reebonz, Zilingo and Zalora for fashion –just to name a few.

Now, there is another online store to add to the list. “Dei” which stands for “Daily Everything” was officially launched this week. Dei partners merchants and retailers in Singapore’s Little India to provide on-demand consolidated same-day delivery services for products like groceries, hardware, prayer items and home essentials amongst others. Many of these products are sourced directly from India and not available in other shops on the island. It helps bridge the gap between shops in Little India and e-commerce, essentially being the online storefront for these shops helping them expand their customer base.

The inspiration behind starting Dei came in 2016 after co-founders Mr Jay Varman and Mr P.P. Raj was approached by the owner of Jothi Store & Flower Shop, Mr Regunarth Thyagarajan, to build an online store for his business.
To kick-start, their website, Dei collaborated with the Little India Shopkeepers Heritage Association (LISHA). The company is also an official agency partner of the Info-Communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) under the country’s smart nation initiative.

LISHA chairman Mr C. Rajkumar told Channel NewsAsia that one of the initial challenges for participating retailers was managing both their online and physical inventory at the same time. Even more difficult was onboarding retailers who do not even have a POS (Point-Of-Sale) system.

He says many retailers seem to be keen to experiment. “While they might not have the clearest understanding about e-commerce, most of them understand the significance of the online space.”

In a span of three short years since its soft launch, Dei achieved S$900,000 in revenue with a growth rate of around 150 per cent annually. It currently hosts over 70 brick-and-mortar Indian retailers in Little India, supermarkets, wet markets, mom and pop shops and other speciality stores. Its platform lists over 15,000 products with orders averaging 50 per day.

The start-up is in the midst of raising seed funding and is expecting to close the round within the next few months. The funds will be used to scale operations beyond Little India as well as expanding to other niche community precincts such as Chinatown and Kampong Glam.

Co-founder Mr Varman was quoted by the Straits Times as saying,”since Singapore is small, it made sense for us to cater to racial communities. However, in other countries, we will work with small geographical locations such as Klang and Subang Jaya within Kuala Lumpur.” He added that Dei intends to build hyperlocal, omnichannel grocery marketplaces across South-east Asia.

“Dei was founded to promote digital transformation and introduce new technologies for Little India’s merchant community,” added Mr Varman.

Going online enables retailers to reach new customers across Singapore they were unable to with a physical store. Mr Varman predicts that Dei can help merchants and retailers on its platform increase revenue by up to 30 per cent. He continued,“while most customers are Indian, there is more interest from other ethnicities, especially the Chinese community.”