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2020 Roundup: A Look At S'pore Industries That Emerged As Winners And Losers Of COVID-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of our lives and careers, and it has also put a heavy toll on our economy.

In the second quarter, Singapore’s economy contracted by 13.2 per cent year on year — the worst quarterly contraction on record.

Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 6.7 per cent in the first half of this year, and is expected to contract by five per cent and seven per cent for the full year.

In addition, the pandemic has drastically changed the way we live and consume various products, bringing about a “new normal” in various aspects of our lives.

This has also brought about opportunities for some industries, and more problems than one for others. That said, here’s a look at the winners and losers of 2020:

Safer Shopping: E-Commerce, Food And Grocery Delivery

shopee app
Image Credit: Campaign Asia

There have been many commentaries on the downfall of physical retail in Singapore, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

As stores closed their doors amid the lockdown or circuit breaker, consumers turned to online retailers for leisure items and even groceries.

A report by data analytics and consulting company, GlobalData showed that Singapore has experienced a surge in e-commerce transactions amid the pandemic.

According to e-commerce aggregator iPrice Group, e-commerce giant Shopee experienced a 83 per cent increase in monthly web visits from the first quarter to second quarter of 2020.

Furthermore, while buying groceries online might not have been widely popular before, the pandemic has accelerated the trend of Singaporeans opting for grocery delivery.

According to Lazada, its online grocery sales from RedMart in Singapore jumped four times from early April.

redmart van
Image Credit: Singapore Foodie

In an interview with CNBC, Lazada Singapore CEO James Chang said that the company “hired about 500 staff here in Singapore over the course of a few weeks” to substantially increase their capacity.

At the height of the pandemic in Singapore, many consumers even found it difficult to secure a delivery slot through online supermarket platforms.

Skeptics might question if the e-commerce boom is just a short-lived one.

However, according to a report by The Straits Times, the trend is set to continue, and experts predict that e-commerce will play an even bigger role in the “new normal”.

Furthermore, the pandemic has made Singaporeans more predisposed to making use of technology in their everyday lives, which makes e-commerce a readily available and convenient option.

Receiving Healthcare From The Comfort Of Home

telemedicine
Image Credit: SBR

Covid-19 has forced us to stay home more, sparking the rise of telehealth that brings key medical services straight to our doorsteps.

As patients become more comfortable with having a consultation with a doctor through the screen, telehealth services have become more widely accepted.

Telehealth is seen as a marriage of healthcare and technology, which focuses on providing remote telemedicine and teleconsultations through text messaging, web or mobile apps.

Even before Covid-19 struck, telemedicine had already been gaining traction in Singapore.

Since the late 2010s, the medical industry has caught on to rapid consumer technologies with the launch of platforms that offer patients on-demand and remote medical care options.

Industry insiders have said that telemedicine apps in many countries saw a spike in demand after the pandemic hit.

However, it has to be taken into consideration that while the pandemic gave the telemedicine industry a much needed push, actions have to be taken to sustain the uptake.

The Ministry of Health launched a new Licensing Experimentation and Adaptation Programme (LEAP) in 2018 to provide regulatory sandboxes that enable new and innovative telemedicine models to be developed in a safe and controlled environment.

With this, an accelerated development in this field is expected.

Everything Is Online Now, Even Learning

edutech
Image Credit: Nikkei Asia

Covid-19 has moved classroom teaching to video conferencing and online classes as Singapore schools closed during the circuit breaker.

From primary schools to universities, throngs of students across all ages began using video conferencing tools like Zoom for lessons.

No doubt, platforms like Zoom that help with online learning have experienced exponential growth this year.

Zoom CEO and founder, Eric Yuan, saw his net worth jump by 77 per cent to US$7.8 billion in just two months. Zoom now has a market capitalisation value of US$122 billion, up from US$18.8 billion in 2019.

However, besides such one-dimensional platforms, parents of younger children are increasingly looking for more interactive platforms for them to learn remotely.

This has led to education technology (edtech) applications and platforms growing in popularity over this period.

For example, Koobits, an edtech startup, has had to turn off its servers between 10pm and 6am to stop its students from doing work past their bedtime.

The online learning platform uses a combination of gamification and community-based learning to make learning fun. Children log onto and use the platform of their own accord.

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Koobits founder Stanley Han shared that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated their expansion significantly.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the growth trajectory of edtech is expected to triple within the decade, from US$107 billion in 2015 to US$325 billion in 2025.

Funding for startups in the industry has also grown.

According to Holon IQ, funding for edtech startups grew from US$500 million in 2010 to US$7 billion in 2019. Another US$87 billion is expected to be invested over the next 10 years.

More Physical Retail Stores Are Folding

robinsons closing down
Robinsons’ closing down sale / Image Credit: Coconuts.co

Besides COVID-19’s undeniable impact on individuals and society, it has also taken a huge toll on many retail businesses.

Lockdowns and safe distancing measures have resulted in a significant decrease in businesses’ footfall, translating to lower profits.

Businesses have had to quickly pivot or risk phasing out. Even so, factors like rental and manpower costs might continue to be a hindrance in business continuity plans.

This year, Singaporeans have already bid farewell to a myriad of homegrown and international brands.

For example, Robinsons — one of the oldest department stores in Singapore — made its exit from Singapore for good, following losses in the recent years.

According to a report by Business Times, the department store had been chalking up at least six years of losses amid declining revenues.

Other closures in Singapore include Bakerzin, Sportslink, Topshop and Topman, and many more.

Besides problems paying for manpower and rent, these closures have also been exacerbated by consumers’ shift towards e-commerce.

After all, it is undisputed that online shopping is usually cheaper and more convenient.

Aviation May Never Fully Recover

singapore airlines
Image Credit: Business Traveller

Airlines are heavily battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, as leisure air travel has been halted indefinitely.

As of June 2020, major airlines such as Lufthansa, British Airways, and Emirates, have cut tens of thousands of jobs.

Despite the additional S$187 million worth of support for the aerospace industry, Singapore Airlines (SIA) had already spent half of the S$8.8 billion in share sales that it raised in two months.

As the borders of most countries remain closed to a certain extent, it is unlikely that airlines will see an uptake in performance anytime soon.

Even though governments around the world have implemented green lanes for business travellers, these efforts do not significantly bolster airlines’ profits.

Airlines have had to come up with innovative ways to maximise their resources.

For example, Taiwan’s Eva Airlines has launched flights to nowhere, to emulate the travel experience for travel-starved customers.

On the other hand, SIA launched in-plane dining and training centre tours.

Within half an hour, all slots for its two-day run on October 24 and 25 for a lunch dining experience onboard its largest A380 aircraft were sold out and there was a waitlist.

However, with most of airlines’ revenue streams being cut off, it is unlikely that the aviation sector will be able to return to its pre-Covid-19 performance anytime soon.

Many Nightlife Institutions Have Remained Closed For Months

zouk
Image Credit: TTR Weekly

In March, entertainment venues, covering bars, night clubs, discos, cinemas, theatres, and karaoke outlets were ordered to close with reopening plans uncertain.

Cinemas have since reopened from July 13, but bars, clubs, karaoke outlets and other entertainment outlets were still not allowed to reopen.

Some establishments have decided to pivot to remain open. For example, Zouk has collaborated with fitness studio Absolute Cycle to hold spin classes on its dancefloor.

The award-winning nightlife giant also launched the Zouk Cinema Club, a brand new pop-up cinematic experience.

More recently, the government announced a three-month pilot programme that will allow nightlife institutions to reopen. However, they have to stick to strict Covid-19 rules, including mandatory pre-event testing.

Furthermore, before the pilot programme was announced, these institutions were already struggling.

For example, Teo Heng KTV Studio founder Jackson Teo previously shared with Lianhe Wanbao that Teo Heng is expected to incur losses of $500,000 for a month-long closure.

Since it has been closed for seven months, it’s safe to assume that their losses have racked up to S$3.5 million so far.

Back in July, Teo Heng announced that it will be closing down half of its 14 outlets in Singapore due to COVID-19.

So far, Teo Heng has reinstated and returned only two outlets. It also does not plan to apply for the pilot programme to reopen.

It is reasonable to expect other nightlife institutions to face heavy losses due to the prolonged closure as well. Though the reopening programme might offer some relief, it might not be sufficient to recoup the losses made.

Is COVID-19 Really Sounding The Death Knell For Some Industries?

Though the pandemic is indeed a devastating event for businesses, it is not a death sentence.

In some situations, businesses have been quick to pivot, which brought about even more growth than before.

For example, co-working space JustCo has been steadily expanding despite most people working from home. It also managed to identify a rising demand in “working from anywhere”.

Thus, JustCo at Centrepoint became the first smart co-working space in Singapore to pilot a new workspace usage concept enabling a new era of ‘Work From Anywhere’.

In some cases, such as in the aviation sector, it is also important that the government steps in due to the need for a large amount of capital.

On the flip side, while some industries might be booming as a result of the pandemic, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that growth will always be on an upward trajectory.

In the end, it becomes the responsibility of business owners to be quick to pivot and identify new trends, or sustain growth.

Featured Image Credit: BioSpectrum Asia

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