Singapore’s Little India goes digital with Dei

  • Since 2016, year-on-year growth of 120%, peaking at an average of 50 daily orders
  • Platform proved that a market existed beyond the precinct


Singapore’s Little India goes digital with Dei


THINK of a market and the image that crops up is one of bright technicolour; a sensory buffet of sight, smell and sound, a distinct departure from the digitalised e-commerce marketplaces of today. To immerse and familiarise oneself with a new place, local markets are the best with their medley of domestic goods, friendly everyday folk and native delicacies.

Undisputedly, these traditional markets breathe colour and soul the way no skyscraper or neon-lit mall can. But to move with the times and give these long-time street merchants bigger opportunities, Singapore-based online marketplace, Dei, celebrated its official launch on April 5.

Dei, which stands for “Daily Everything”, was appointed by the Little India Heritage Association (LISHA) and the Singapore India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) to lead Little India’s vendors into the digital age.

It is a homegrown on-demand grocery delivery platform facilitating doorstep deliveries of groceries and other home essentials from the heart of Little India. With about 144 vendors in Little India, the Dei platform has onboarded 70 of these physical Singapore-based Indian retailers and an additional 140 seasonal merchants who come onboard the site during festivals.


Singapore’s Little India goes digital with Dei


“Our customers have a wide variety of seasonal and stable products they can shop for on Dei’s platform, which makes it unique among other online grocery platforms. This diversity is what makes Little India so unique, and with Dei’s platform, shoppers can experience it all directly from the comfort of their homes,” explained Jay Varman (pic), the co-founder and chief executive officer of Dei.

Product categories include canned goods, clothing, and perishables such as locally sourced vegetables, fruit, and meat. Hosting over 15,000 products, as well as a broad range and variety of Indian goods, Dei is continuously increasing its product range to ensure everyone can get their shopping done from any store and have it go straight to their home at one delivery charge within the same day.

The interview with Jay revealed much about converting the traditional merchant mindset, by first understanding, at the grassroots level, the fear of going digital and the overwhelming challenges they face. Through close guidance and hand-holding, Dei’s implementation offers some detailed insight into what small-medium enterprises (SMEs) need to move forward.

Teething pains

The digital marketplace allows customers to shop online and have their purchases delivered to their own homes by Dei’s fleet of drivers as a single consolidated order as compared to the multitude of individual deliveries by other online marketplaces. This frees up customer time and provides a convenient and more seamless shopping experience.

Since its soft launch in 2016, Dei has experienced year-on-year growth of 120%, peaking at an average of 50 daily orders with an estimated S$900,000 in total revenue. It has expanded its offerings through strategic partnerships to include supermarkets and local wet markets, alongside increasing its traditional vendor base.

“Dei was founded to promote digital transformation and introduce new technologies to Little India’s merchant community. With Dei, Little India’s retailers and merchants can enjoy greater access to the greater Singapore community and increase their revenue by up to 30%,” said Jay.

Though many are converts today and have reaped the fruit of going digital, the onboarding of vendors was certainly met with resistance in the early stages “due to some merchants resisting the idea of going digital and the unwillingness to change the generations-old mom-and-pop shopping culture.”

Among the worries of vendors was the challenge of logistics, given the lack of manpower and resources to fulfil the delivery aspect. “Additionally, several merchants in the precinct had previously attempted to move their business online, and their failures made them more sceptical of Dei’s platform,” Jay revealed.

Digital at last


Singapore’s Little India goes digital with Dei


Addressing vendors’ concerns, Dei worked on convincing them by taking some of their products to sell on the platform. By taking charge of posting and inventory checks, Dei proved to these vendors that a market for their goods existed beyond the Little India precinct.

“Within a few weeks on the platform, our merchants saw an increase in their sales by up to 5-10%, which made the discussions with other merchants easier,” said Jay. To date, Dei provides pick-up and delivery services of products.

“Additionally, we provide customers with same-day delivery services if they make their purchases before 10am, with timings to cater to their busy lifestyles. This allows vendors ample time to consolidate the online orders they will receive without disrupting their physical stores.”

But with any digital journey, it is consumer behaviour and user experience that demands close attention for lasting success. Giving an example, Jay shared: “I once stood outside a merchant’s butchery for a whole week to observe and understand his customers' preferences such as the types of meat and their desired cuts. We took those findings and applied them on our platform for his shop's own offerings with great success.”

On top of heeding customer habits, Dei methodically catalogued every item for sale in its respective inventories to ensure an accurate representation of their offerings on Dei. “We created a cloud-based POS solutions system that will allow vendors to keep track of their inventory. Additionally, a personalised microstore was created for each vendor to be used through an IoT device, one that will enable them to answer customer queries about products and their availability directly.”

With razor-sharp focus on solving each pain point faced by vendors every step of the way, Singapore’s Little India is on its way to an even larger digital presence. “Dei’s end goal is to bring every single merchant in Little India onto our platform, allowing them to tap into the rapidly growing e-commerce trend in Singapore,” Jay said.

The plan, however, does not stop here. Beyond Little India, “Dei is branching out to other heritage districts such as Geylang Serai and Kampong Glam. Shoppers will experience the same comfort that is currently provided to Little India.”


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