From wet market to Web market: Stalls launch online presence to sell their produce

SINGAPORE - Freshly made yong tau foo, the day's catch and meat butchered to order are among the draws of shopping at wet markets.

But with fewer people making the morning trip to them, sellers at one of Singapore's oldest wet markets have found a way to take their produce to the customer.

E-commerce site MarketFresh, launched last year, is the brainchild of fishmonger Khor Chin Puang.

On its website, customers can order wet market produce from more than 10 stalls at Tiong Bahru Market, for delivery the next day.

It did not take much convincing for Mr Khor, who owns Pan's Fish stall and grew up helping his mother at her seafood stall at the market, to get others on board.

"Wet markets are stagnant. Last time the mindset was that you want to see the fresh fish or pork before you buy. Nowadays people don't, that's why online is growing," said Mr Khor, 35, who added that he has seen a steady single-digit drop in sales each year over the past few years.

"There will always be a group of people who will come to the market to buy quality items, but that group is getting smaller and smaller."

Each morning, orders placed the day before are conveyed to the market's participating stallholders, who prepare and pack the items for delivery by about 9am.

The businesses, which include hawkers of fresh meat, vegetables and yong tau foo, said the platform has helped to boost their sales by up to 20 per cent.

Many have been operating at the market, opened in 1951 as Seng Poh Road Market, for at least five decades.

Despite competition from online grocers like RedMart, which also sells fresh produce, Mr Khor said that MarketFresh's edge is being able to supply seasonal and customised items while supporting the "aunties and uncles" at the market.

He is among several innovative wet market stallholders who are finding new ways to draw customers.

Fishmonger Khor Chin Puang grew up helping his mother at her seafood stall at Tiong Bahru Market. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Four times a week at the Geylang Serai market, Ms Christina Tan positions a smartphone over the ice bed of her parents' fish stall and turns on Facebook's live streaming function.

Since last November, she has been conducting live auctions of the day's catch, handpicked from the Jurong and Senoko Fishery Ports, on her Facebook page Firstonlineseafoodbidding.

During the two to three-hour long sales, Ms Tan, 28, places seafood in front of the camera and barters with customers while bidders name their price in the comments. Successful bids are delivered the same day.

 

The aim is to bring convenience to those who may not have the time or ability to visit the market, she said.

"We don't sell online for more than the price at the stall, as both are targeting different audiences. A lot of customers at the stall are those running businesses, while online most of my customers are working professionals and housewives," she said.

At the Chinatown Wet Market in Chinatown Complex, one stall in the basement stands out among the rest. "Anthony the Spice Maker" is spelt out on a wooden signboard, and on display at the brightly-lit stall are rows of spice packets, recipes for local favourites like laksa and sambal stingray, and a television playing sharply produced cooking demonstrations.

Founder Anthony Leow makes his own spice mixes and pastes at the 10-year-old stall, and decided in recent years to create an online presence with the help of his daughter, a marketing graduate who runs a second store in Kreta Ayer.

Anthony the Spice Maker founder Anthony Leow makes his own spice mixes and pastes at the 10-year-old stall. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The brand now has social media accounts and an e-commerce site, while QR codes on the spice packets can be scanned to access video tutorials on how to turn the spice mixes into a paste or a hearty curry dish.

"I wanted to share my recipes and help customers better understand how to use our products," said Mr Leow, 58.

About 40 per cent of sales are now online, with customers in countries such as Australia and the United States. The Chinatown stall is listed on travel site TripAdvisor, and has become a stop along local tours.

Wet market businesses have to keep up with the times to continue drawing customers, he said.

"They have to learn how to use technology, upgrade their storefront and make the environment nice and clean. If I didn't improve, I don't think my daughter would have wanted to help with the business," said Mr Leow.

MarketFresh's Mr Khor sees potential for a wet market revival.

"Ten years ago no one wanted to be a hawker, but now becoming a hawker is so hip. Maybe one day it will be like that for wet markets," he said.

For a start, he is trying to bring wagyu beef and other "exciting" new products to Tiong Bahru Market. But his application for a stall selling cheese and deli meats was rejected, as NEA rules do not allow for the sale of different categories of items, such as pork and eggs, in the same stall.

"Maybe certain rules and mindsets have to change for there to be a resurgence. There are pockets of us trying to make wet markets more modern, but there's no momentum yet," said Mr Khor.