Deep Dive: The Role of HDB Shops in Singapore’s Retail Landscape

The Straits Times reports that the Government is looking into the social and economic value of HDB shops and the benefits they can bring to local communities.

This is a topic of great interest to many of us. I downloaded the specifications of the study and we can start from there.

Provision of Research Consultancy Services

1 Objective

1.1  The Consultant will work jointly with the Housing & Development Board (HDB), Enterprise Singapore (ESG), GovTech and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to evaluate the social and economic value of HDB shops by tapping on mixed-methods research to conduct fieldwork, engage various stakeholders (e.g. residents, community, shop workers and business owners etc.) and analyse supporting data.

1.2  The objective of the study is to validate previously developed archetypes, vibrancy indicators and trade mix analyses as well as to answer specific lines of inquiry. Utilising the data collected, the Consultant shall recommend a policy position and targeted strategies for the retail hierarchy, as well as towns/estates with a higher overall commercial quantum. The Consultant shall engage relevant stakeholders to obtain their input on the proposal, as well as produce actionable summaries and a toolkit to be published on HDB’s Infoweb and disseminated to industry players.

2 Scope of Services

This study serves as Phase 2 of a two-phase project, which complements Phase 1’s quantitative analysis with more qualitative methods (e.g. ethnographic research, focus group discussions (FGDs), interviews etc.) Phase 1 analysed the changes in trade mix in our HDB shops over time, developed shop archetypes and examined differences in socio-economic value of shops across trades and hierarchy levels. It also proxied for differences in vibrancy across HDB shops using footfall and utilities consumption data. Specifically, the archetypes were derived by clustering shops based on their financial profile, e.g. businesses displaying similar trends in metrics such as sales per square metres and profit margin may be clustered together. Firms in each cluster can be broken down by town, trade or retail hierarchy level, e.g. the top 3 towns and trades for each archetype can be derived.

Phase 2 can be broadly broken down into the following stages, with regular updates to HDB Management/Ministries/political office holders throughout the stages:

Preliminary Report

1. Research Design
2. Initial Data Collection
3. Analysis and policy recommendations

Final Report

4. Ground Engagement on preliminary report
5. Final report consolidating the above, and including actionable summaries and a toolkit to be published on HDB’s InfoWeb

The Consultant shall provide the Services as follows:

2.1 Preliminary Report: Research Design, Initial Data Collection, and Analysis and Policy Recommendations

2.1.1  Conduct a literature review, which should cover the areas of

  • Past research on retail landscapes in Singapore and internationally
  • Past research on heartland-type archetypes in Singapore and internationally
  • Research on how to digitalize retailers
  • Research on how to reinvent physical brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls

2.1.2  To conduct a minimum of 1500 surveys, 80 in-depth interviews and 10 focus group discussions to study clauses 2.1.3 to 2.1.10:

2.1.3  Construct a representative sample to study clauses 2.1.4 to 2.1.9 by considering the following characteristics:

  • Archetype classification
  • Age of town
  • Shop type (sold/rental) *HDB has a portfolio of 15,000 shops which are either rented out by HDB or sold to private owners
  • Retail hierarchy level (TC/NC/PC)

2.1.4 Identify significant patterns/results from Phase 1’s archetypes and further examine selected shops through surveys, interviews and FGDs, thereby providing clearer understanding and explanations for these results.

For example, the Consultant’s examination shall include, but is not limited to the following:

  • Exploring why certain shops (e.g. of specific trades) form the majority of businesses in a cluster;
  • Ascertaining the social value of shops in the same archetype, including any differences in social value among them;
  • Finding out why and for how long certain trades have been performing poorly economically, and how they can be assisted; and
  • At least 3 other patterns of interest

2.1.5 Supplement Phase 1’s vibrancy index by proposing social indicators to measure community bonding and vibrancy derived from HDB shops. The Consultant should clearly explain how these indicators will be measured and provide guidelines on how to replicate such measures for future monitoring and assessment. Examples of such indicators shall include, but is not limited to the following:

  • Heritage value of the shops;
  • Amount of time that patrons spend in the shops; and
  • At least 3 other indicators researched/substantiated by the Consultant

2.1.6 Through surveys, interviews and FGDs, understand the social and economic value of HDB shops:

(i)  compared to private malls

(ii)  to patrons:

  • How does the availability of HDB shops impact different age groups’ access to essential goods?
  • What is the impact of HDB shops on cost of living?
  • What benefits do residents derive from patronising HDB shops?
  • What are some features or perks of a placemaking activity that patrons would like to see or have that would draw them to visit the HDB shops?
  • How far are patrons willing to travel for

a) F&B

b) Non-F&B

c) Services?

(iii)  to residents:

  • What roles do residents think HDB shops and/or shop workers play/can play in the neighbourhood?
  • What are some of the available channels that residents know of, to raise community engagement or event ideas?
  • What are some features or perks of a placemaking activity that residents would like to see or have that would draw them to visit the HDB shops?

(iv)  to workers:

  • What are some considerations/motivations besides remuneration for working in an HDB shop? What is the proportion of such workers?
  • How far do workers travel to work in HDB shops?
  • What are the aspirations of ‘non-conventional’ workers in HDB shops (e.g. those who gave up well-paid white-collar jobs to become hawkers or entrepreneurs)?
  • What are some industries or skill sets (if available in HDB shops) that might attract one to pursue a career in HDB shops?
  • If workers want to be redeployed, what type of jobs would they want to be employed in, and what additional skills do workers think they will require?
  • What is the level of employability/redeployment of workers (excluding self-employed business owners) for struggling HDB shops? (e.g. staff skillsets, age, motivation to work etc.)
  • What additional skills do workers think they require to remain employable amid a changing retail landscape?

(v)  to business owners/associations

  • How can associations further value-add to their HDB shop members?
  • For self-employed business owners who are struggling, what are the motivations behind continuing to operate? What kind of help do they require? What are the options for redeployment?
  • What is the worker’s contribution and economic value of HDB shops?
  • Why do businesses choose to operate in HDB shops over other premises?
  • What is the value of HDB shops to startups (i.e. new enterprises between 0-3 years)?
  • Besides economic considerations, what are the personal reasons for owners to continue running their HDB shop businesses?
  • What benefits do owners think their shops can bring to the community?
  • What capabilities or digital solutions do startups and high growth enterprises require? What are the costs of such options?
  • What are the aspirations of ‘non-conventional’ business owners in HDB shops (e.g. those who gave up well-paid white-collar jobs to become hawkers or entrepreneurs)
  • What are some capabilities a Merchants’ Association should possess in order to better represent the interest of HDB shops?

2.1.7 Through surveys, interviews and FGDs, understand the impact of COVID-19 on HDB shops:

2.1.8 Through surveys, interviews and FGDs, study whether HDB shops might be at risk given specific trends, including but not limited to:

(i)  Demographic shifts/consumer behaviour

  • Is there a shift in demand towards particular types of HDB shops providing goods and services for a specific consumer market?
  • With consumers demanding greater convenience and the sprout of new heartland malls within residential enclaves, how has it impacted HDB shops?
  • Does consumer demography affect the use of digital payments by a HDB shop merchant, and if so, to what extent and how?
  • What are the barriers towards adoption for digital payments or going online by HDB shops?

(ii)  Restructuring of Singapore’s enterprise landscape

  • How are existing HDB shops adapting in terms of their business model in the face of competition from heartland malls and established chains?

(iii) Tech disruptions to the retail sector

  • What types of trade are better poised to survive the challenges posed by e-commerce and changing lifestyles?
  • How has e-commerce impacted the retail sector in the heartlands? To what extent have consumers shifted their purchases from HDB shops to e-commerce platforms, especially in light of COVID-19?
  • What are the barriers for HDB shops to embark on e-commerce initiatives and the cost?
  • How have advancements in technology and adoption (e.g. supply chain tech) disrupted the livelihood of HDB shops?
  • What inhibits HDB shops from going digital?

2.1.9 Listed below are a few possible preliminary interventions that the Government may consider. The Consultant may suggest additional or alternative measures. The Consultant should study if they are applicable to any subset of HDB shops, and if so, should further identify and address potential challenges (e.g. receptiveness) arising from these proposed interventions, such as through surveys, interviews and FGDs:

(i)  Lowering operating costs through economies of scale

(ii)  Launch pilot programmes in newer estates (e.g. omni-channel retailing)

(iii)  Facilitate change/exit of trades through more active trade-mix management

(iv)  Encouraging more social enterprises to serve community needs

(v)  Help upskill and transition existing workers

2.1.10  Beyond the representative sample to study clauses 2.1.4 to 2.1.9, the Consultant should:

(i)  Identify 3 neighbourhood centres that are suitable to invest rejuvenation efforts in

(ii)  Construct representative samples within 3 selected neighbourhood centres

(iii)  Propose targeted interventions to improve the vibrancy and maximise the social and economic value of these sites, including (but not limited to):

Curation of trade mix

Thematic compositions


Advertising (design changes/upgrading)

Developing the capabilities of the site’s Merchants’ Association (if any)

Adopting of digital solutions

Curation of placemaking activities

(iv)  Propose interventions or policy levers to attract start-ups to HDB shops

(v)  Outline clear outcomes that can be measured

(vi)  Construct a framework for implementing relevant interventions across all HDB shops (neighbourhood centres, precinct clusters) in Singapore

2.1.11  Propose a policy position and targeted strategies for different archetypes distributed across towns/estates and retail hierarchy level. There should be separate recommendations for new and existing shops.

2.2 Final Report: Ground Engagement on Preliminary Report and Consolidated Findings

2.2.1 Conduct engagement sessions (e.g. FGDs, interviews) with relevant stakeholders (e.g. business owners, Merchants’ Associations) to seek input on the proposed policies and interventions.

2.2.2 Produce actionable summaries and a toolkit to be published on HDB’s Infoweb and disseminated to industry players.

2.2.3 Present final report to HDB’s Top Management, Government Ministries and Political Office Holders.

3 Deliverables

3.1 The Consultant shall present and submit the final report that should include,

but is

not limited to, the following:

  1. the data collected;
  2. explanations for select patterns from Phase 1’s archetypes;
  3. social indicators to supplement Phase 1’s vibrancy index;
  4. analysis of findings from surveys, interviews and FGDs (e.g. HDB shops’ social and economic value, risk given specific trends);
  5. targeted intervention store rejuvenate the 3NCs identified;
  6. policy recommendations;
  7. data and analysis of engagement sessions to tease receptiveness of policy recommendations;
  8. actionable summaries and a toolkit to be published on HDB’s Infoweb and disseminated to business owners

The above should include details and reasons, as described in Section 2: Scope of Services.

Annex A
Hierarchy of commercial facilities in HDB towns

The three levels of commercial facilities in HDB towns are:

A. Town Centres (TC)

The Town Centre is the commercial hub of a town. Major transport nodes, such as the MRT station (or LRT station) and bus interchange, are usually located in the Town Centre. A wide range of commercial facilities such as eateries, supermarkets and many shops are provided at the Town Centre. Besides commercial facilities, entertainment facilities like cinemas, bowling alleys, amusement centres are also provided. As an activity hub, institutional and cultural facilities (e.g. library, polyclinic) could also be provided at the Town Centre.

B. Neighbourhood Centres (NC)

Neighbourhood Centres are smaller in size and distributed across the town. They provide a variety of goods and services such as eateries, supermarkets, wet markets / food centres (at selected locations) and several shops.

C. Precinct Shop Clusters (PC)

Local precinct shop clusters provide commercial facilities within close proximity to residents’ homes. They provide more basic trades such as supermarkets, minimarts, eating houses, clinics, cake shops etc.

An example is found in the plan below, which shows the town centre, neighbourhood centres and precinct shop clusters (indicated by purple circles) in a town. The plan is fictional and for illustration purposes only.

One thought on “Deep Dive: The Role of HDB Shops in Singapore’s Retail Landscape

  1. Pingback: Stand-alone Outlets and Small Shopping Centres Outperform Large Shopping Centres in Occupancy Cost and Profitability –

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