Singapore businesses stay optimistic despite being in ‘survival mode’

Photo by cottonbro

Almost six in 10 (59%) Singapore business leaders describe their companies as surviving, with new waves of COVID-19 being their main challenge in 2021. In fact, 41% had considered closing their businesses from January to August 2021 due to pandemic volatility.

This is according to the second Shop Small Business Recovery Research for Singapore conducted with 300 local business leaders from July to August 2021. The research was commissioned by American Express.

However, most businesses remain cautiously optimistic about the future. Almost seven in 10 (67%) expect 2021 annual sales to increase compared to pre-pandemic annual sales in 2019—an improvement from 53% in 2020.

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The top reasons for their optimism in 2021 are the increase in revenue from expanding their businesses online (46%), support from new customers (44%), and continued support from regular customers (40%).  

Ho Yat-Wai, Country Manager, American Express Singapore, said: “While local businesses are more optimistic after almost two years since the pandemic started, its volatility weighs heavily on business leaders’ minds, including ours. The recent spike in cases is an example of the fluidity of the situation and difficulty in planning.  

“Businesses need help—especially now in these volatile times. American Express is hopeful that Shop Small will provide businesses with an extra boost so they can eventually shift to thriving in the future—and not just surviving.

“We are mindful of shoppers’ safety, so for those who are planning to go out, we encourage you to follow safe distancing measures to keep you and your family safe.”

Customers: top supporter for businesses

Considering that the second top challenge cited by businesses in 2021 is the lack of tourists, it is not surprising that businesses cited their regular customers and new customers (63%) as their biggest supporters. So it is especially important for residents to continue to support businesses during this challenging time.

Ka-Soh Restaurants’ third-generation owner Cedric Tang said, “With COVID-19, we had to put together a quick strategic plan to find additional revenue streams by collaborating with various partners, while staying true to the core of our business—our food.

“Throughout these changes, our customers have provided overwhelming support for our business, and we are deeply appreciative of this.”

Singapore businesses optimistic for the new normal

Looking ahead, 71% of respondents shared they are optimistic they can thrive in the new normal—with 76% having made adjustments to sustain their business in the next 12 months. The top two changes businesses plan to make in the new normal are to focus more on e-commerce and communicate more with customers via social media.

Brianna Wong, Co-Founder of The Closet Lover, said, “We faced many challenges but also learned new lessons. When the lockdown started, we held weekly live sessions on social media to stay connected with our customers. It was not only heartwarming to see them join us every week, but these sessions have also helped us to learn what our customers want. Their consistent feedback has helped shape our product line and omnichannel experience.”

Uncertainty from pandemic changes long-term business strategy and planning

Unsurprisingly, only four in 10 (45%) business leaders now have a clear long-term strategy compared to eight in 10 (84%) before the pandemic.

Among those who do not currently have a business plan, 23% cite the uncertainty from the pandemic as a key reason. Another 25% changed their business strategy to become more agile to better respond to changes, rather than focusing on long-term planning.

ASTONS Founder and CEO Aston Soon said, “Since the start of pandemic, we expected it to linger for three years. So, we foresee an uncertain journey, full of challenges ahead.

“To ensure we can continue to sustain growth, we need to remain innovative and nimble to tackle challenges, while taking calculated risks with a robust long-term plan and continued investments for the business.”