DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Launch of Fairprice On

SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam | 28 March 2018

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the launch of the refreshed Fairprice digital platform, Fairprice On, on 28 March 2018 at the Fairprice Hub.


Mr Seah Kian Peng, CEO, NTUC FairPrice

Ladies and gentlemen

I am happy to be here today as we launch “FairPrice On”, the refreshed online e-commerce platform for FairPrice.

Kian Peng has talked about how the platform has helped FairPrice to raise productivity and better serve its customers, and also about how this effort is very much in line with the national Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM). 

Benefitting from Technological Innovation – Better Jobs and Higher Productivity

FairPrice’s platform is a very good example of how traditional businesses can use technology to transform themselves and improve the quality of jobs in the retail industry. FairPrice is a 45-year-old household consumer brand, that has kept up with changing times, anticipated consumer trends and improved its operations so that it can better serve the needs of customers as well as employees.

Its “Autostore” system, which is a high-tech and automated warehouse storage and retrieval system, frees employees from the manual process of storing and retrieving goods, and enables them to focus on quality control and ensuring accuracy in meeting orders. The system currently fulfils 1,600 customer orders per day which is up to four1  times more productive than before automation was introduced.

Consumers too can benefit - those who do not have time or want to shop in the comfort of their own homes or even on-the-go. They also benefit from real-time updates on items in stock.

Beyond “FairPrice On”, I understand that FairPrice is also experimenting with other innovations at its “living lab” at Paya Lebar. For instance, it has an in-store mobile shopping assistant that allows customers to create shopping lists, check in-store stock availability and receive customised promotions. It also has “click-and-collect” lockers which store food at different temperatures and bring greater speed and convenience to customers who shop online.

Developing Every Worker’s Capabilities for the Future

I am happy that FairPrice, with a staff strength of 10,000, is providing re-training for its workers to ensure that they are able to take on better jobs. Where technology has enabled staff to be relieved from labour-intensive work, they are being re-deployed to carry out more value-added tasks, such as providing better customer service or supporting operations such as electronic shelf labelling and iCash systems.

For instance, Jonathan Tan from the e-business unit has been with FairPrice for close to a decade and experienced first-hand, the organisation’s transformation from brick-and-mortar towards digitalisation. Jonathan started as a branch manager at FairPrice Xtra in Changi Business Park focusing on frontline operations. To keep up with the changing times, Jonathan has been attending a range of courses and seminars organised by SPRING Singapore, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS) on omni-channel retailing and customer experience. In 2015, he became part of the pioneering team to develop the online e-commerce platform for FairPrice’s order fulfilment process.

I am told that FairPrice invests more than 250,000 hours annually in providing training for its staff, and provides funding support for employees to further their studies and upgrade themselves.

It is an example of what every employer has to be responsible for, and of how we will succeed in SkillsFuture. We must develop every individual employee, at every stage of their working lives.

The government is working with industry and training providers to support this effort in the retail sector. To mention three initiatives:

  1. SSG, the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS) and Alibaba’s Taobao University have been collaborating to design a suite of training programmes to equip workers for the digital transformation of the retail sector. Since this started in May 2017, over 1,300 individuals from over 500 SMEs and 180 larger firms2 have been trained under the programme. Charles and Keith is one of the firms that have benefitted. They have seen their online sales of bags increase by 27 times3.

  2. SSG and SIRS have also collaborated with the Amazon Web Services4 (AWS) to roll out the Business Essentials training programme in December 2017. Through this programme, retailers of all sizes can learn and benefit from the AWS cloud technology -  a pay-on-demand platform that enables them to access a full spectrum of IT infrastructure services such as computing power, storage and databases.
  3. SPRING and WSG are now collaborating with Mercer to pilot a job redesign programme, starting with seven retail companies5 last year. This programme for retailers will be launched in partnership with the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) in the middle of this year, and will provide retailers with comprehensive resources, including a self-assessment toolkit, case studies and access to domain experts to guide each company through its job redesign journey, from start to end.


In conclusion, I would like to congratulate FairPrice on a successful launch of its refreshed “FairPrice On”.

In some ways, FairPrice’s journey is also reflective of Singapore’s journey in the next phase of its development – which is about embracing technological change so as to maximize its benefits for everyone, but also keeping a watchful eye on how it impacts jobs and helping every individual to adapt to change and do well.

1 AutoStore’s current ability is to fulfil 160 order-lines (specific products) per hour, with the potential to fulfil 220 order-lines per hour; as compared to 35 to 45 order-lines per hour via manual paper picking, and 50 to 60 order-lines per hour via PDA Radio Frequency picking.

2 The exact figures are 512 SMEs and 184 non-SMEs.

3 Charles and Keith’s online sales of bags increased from 516 to 14,398 per month.

4 AWS is a channel of cloud services for retailers to tap on a full spectrum of IT infrastructure services including computing power, storage, networking and databases. This pay-on-demand service will save businesses, especially our SMEs, time and upfront capital to invest in IT infrastructure. It will also help them remain competitive in the digital terrain. The AWS Business Essential was launched on 27 Nov 2017.

5 The seven companies are Robinsons, Sheng Siong, Charles & Keith, Benjamin Barker, Gain City, Soo Kee, and Star Furniture.