Ø USING AN AGENT TO SELL U.S. PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Many American exporters use agents or distributors to serve the Singapore market and other markets in Southeast Asia. Finding prospective partners usually presents no problem as long as there is a need and a market for the product. Singapore firms are aggressive when it comes to representing new products and typically respond enthusiastically to new opportunities. Most American companies that use the U.S. Commercial Service (CS) Singapore matchmaking and promotion services in Singapore find several interested agents or distributors. Because of the relatively small size of the Singapore market, potential partners often ask to cover regional territories. With a strong history of trade, Singaporean companies are particularly successful in taking products to the region. CS Singapore offers a wide range of programs and has an excellent record of success in introducing U.S. firms to the market. A list of services offered by CS Singapore can be obtained from our website at www.export.gov/Singapore
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Ø ESTABLISHING AN OFFICE
American firms wishing to establish a presence in Singapore have several straightforward options to do so. They can establish a Representative Office (RO), register as a Branch of the parent, or incorporate as a Singapore company. General information on establishing an office can be found online.
If an American company wishes to carry on operations in Singapore, it should register a branch office or incorporate a local company with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). ACRA publishes an excellent guide that takes the first-time registrant through the process of establishing a branch office or incorporating in Singapore.
Setting up a Representative Office (RO) in Singapore can be a good way for American firms to explore business opportunities in Singapore or the region. ROs in banking and insurance need to register with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and meet the guidelines or requirements laid out by the MAS. ROs in all other industries need to register with Enterprise Singapore.
ROs can only carry out market research, conduct feasibility studies or work as a liaison on behalf of the parent company. ROs may not conduct business directly or on behalf of the parent company. ROs cannot ship, transship, or store goods in Singapore. American firms can either work through an agent or distributor to do so or establish their own commercial presence.
For Branch Offices, the Companies Act requires a foreign company to appoint a minimum of one authorized representative who is ordinarily resident in Singapore, i.e. one who is a Singaporean Citizen, a Singapore Permanent Resident, or a person who has been issued an EntrePass.
Establishing a Singapore Business
American firms can also register a sole-proprietorship, partnership, limited liability partnership, or incorporate a company in Singapore. For a sole proprietorship the process takes about one day, while more complex business entities can take up to six weeks and require lawyers and accountants to assist with incorporation documents. A point to bear in mind is that registration/incorporation of a company does not automatically mean that expatriate staff can be assigned to Singapore. Foreign staff must obtain employment passes from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower.
Singapore is home to a wide variety of franchise concepts. Foreign franchises are well received and the United States is by far the largest supplier of foreign franchises in the country. There are American franchises in practically every industry. McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Wing Zone, Krispy Kreme, Subway, Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s, Gymboree, New Horizons, Avis, Comfort Keepers, Contours Express, and many others have operations in Singapore.
As the market is saturated, especially in the food segment, the few Singaporeans that are seeking franchise concepts look for ones that have regional potential. The success of selling a franchise in Singapore is based on a number of factors including brand name, up-front costs and royalties, the concept’s uniqueness, and the flexibility of the franchise agreement. U.S. franchisors should note that real estate in Singapore is prohibitively expensive and obtaining a desirable location is challenging, especially for those in the retail and F&B business.
With its strategic location and well-developed infrastructure, Singapore serves as the regional showcase and distribution center for U.S. franchisors wishing to enter Asian markets. In 2017, Singapore attracted over 17.4 million visitors from around the world. The country’s multi-ethnic society also makes it an ideal location for foreign franchisors to test their concepts and use the reaction to gauge the acceptance of their franchise in Asia.
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Ø DIRECT MARKETING
The direct marketing industry in Singapore began in the early 1990s and now includes direct mail, telemarketing, television sales, mail order, call centers, fulfillment, and eCommerce firms. The Data-Driven Marketing Association of Singapore (DMAS) represents both users and service providers. The direct marketing industry is well supported by service companies including: Singapore Post, Singapore Telecom Call Center, Teledirect, TNT International Mail, Ogilvy One and MMS Consultancy, among many others.
The DMAS, a self-regulatory body, was established in 1983. It provides a forum for all direct-selling companies in Singapore to discuss problems of common concern and to codify a high standard of business practices throughout the industry. The DMAS has adopted a Code of Conduct by which member-companies in the Association must abide by in every aspect of business. Through the Code of Conduct, DMAS aims to further inculcate the spirit and practice of ethical direct-selling within its member-companies, setting examples for others to follow.
Ø JOINT VENTURES / LICENSING
Foreign investors are not required to enter into joint ventures or cede management control to local interests. In Singapore, local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors, the government screens investment proposals only to determine eligibility for various incentive regimes. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital.
Licensing is also a viable alternative in Singapore. With one of the strongest IPR protection schemes in Asia, a well-developed legal framework and an advanced manufacturing base, Singapore is an attractive location for American licensors.
Ø SELLING TO THE GOVERNMENT
Many governments finance public works projects through borrowing from the Multilateral Development Banks. Please refer to “Project Financing” Section in “Trade and Project Financing” for more information.
Singapore is a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement. The U.S.-Singapore FTA (USSFTA) provides increased access for U.S. firms to Singapore’s central government procurement. The USSFTA contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore Government Linked Companies (GLCs) will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the USSFTA. In accordance with its USSFTA commitments, Singapore enacted the Competition Act in 2004 and established the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) in January 2005. With effect April 1, 2018, the CCS has been renamed the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) to take over the role as the government agency responsible for administering and enforcing the Consumer (Fair Trading Act), in addition to enforcing the Competition Act. The Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions.
U.S. firms generally find Singapore to be a receptive, open and lucrative market. The Singaporean government procurement system is considered by many American firms to be fair and transparent. Procurement recommendations are made at the technical level and then forwarded to management for concurrence. Bidders should work closely with the project manager to determine the relative importance of decision criteria such as technical capability and price. Bidders must meet the specifications set out in the tender. Post mortem hearings or meetings for losing bidders are not required or common. Government procurement regulations are contained in Instruction Manual, available from the Ministry of Finance. The Singapore Government also advertises its tenders on its website.
The Singapore Government signals its intent to procure via projects listed on the Ministry of National Development website. Once a project receives funding it moves to GeBiz.sg and there is a short window for purchasing the documents and responding to the bid.
Singapore Government agencies generally expect strong after-sales service. U.S. suppliers should have local representation to provide after-market service if they do not have their own presence. Where required, a separate maintenance contract might be entered with the U.S. supplier.
Ø DISTRIBUTION AND SALES CHANNELS
Singapore's distribution and sales channels are simple, direct and open to the participation of foreign firms established in Singapore. Because of Singapore’s role as a regional hub, most local distributors will also have knowledge of regional distribution rules and regulations. Most consumer goods are imported by stocking distributors who resell to retailers. Some goods are imported directly for sale in the importer's own retail outlets.
Ø SELLING FACTORS / TECHNIQUES
Price, quality and service are the main selling factors in Singapore. Prospective exporters to Singapore should be aware that competition is strong and that buyers expect good after-sales service. Selling techniques vary according to the industry or the product involved, but they are comparable to the techniques used in any other sophisticated market.
Singapore’s eCommerce market is growing fast helped by its pervasive, ultra‐high speed, and trusted ICT infrastructure, tech savvy population, and the government’s dedication in embracing the digital economy and achieving its goal of becoming a Smart Nation. The World Bank ranked Singapore as the second easiest place to do business in the world. It is English speaking, has rule of law, strong IP protection, and an advanced infrastructure network. There is excellent opportunity for U.S. companies to participate in the growing Singapore eCommerce market given its sophisticated, international customer base and one of the highest disposable incomes in Asia. Situated at the crossroads of international shipping and air routes, Singapore is a center for transportation and communication in the region, making it an ideal gateway into Asia Pacific’s eCommerce market.
Current Market Trends
Singapore’s eCommerce market is growing fast. According to Statista Portal, Singapore’s eCommerce revenue will amount to $3.74 billion by the end 2018, and is expected to show annual growth rate (CAGR 2018-2022) of 10.1% resulting in a market volume of $5.489 billion by 2022. The eCommerce ecosystem in the country has grown significantly as key digital marketplaces such as Qoo10 have set up regional operations in Singapore to manage their growth in Southeast Asia while Amazon launched it’s Prime Now service in July 2017 with a 100,000 square- foot fulfillment center in the country. Amazon’s Prime Now service in Singapore operates on a different model compared to other countries as it relies more heavily on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Novel logistics processes such as on-demand delivery scheduling and random stow systems – which locates stock in a warehouse according to order frequency – have been adopted in an effort to drive greater efficiencies. This is in line with the Singapore government’s vision to be a hub for consumer-centric innovation where companies understand and know their consumers online. It actively supports companies in leveraging IT to develop and expand their businesses.
Domestic eCommerce (B2C)
A favorite pastime of Singaporeans is shopping and online shopping is especially popular with young adults and higher income households. A study by Visa showed that 26% of Singaporeans shop online at least once a week – the highest in Southeast Asia. Those in the 25 to 44 age group most frequently shop online in Singapore.
According to Forrester Research, 60% of Singapore’s eCommerce sales come from cross-border orders, a significant percentage compared to countries like Malaysia (40%), Japan (18%), and South Korea (25%). The Financial Study Association of Amsterdam also highlighted Singapore’s suitability as an eCommerce test-bed, as the high share of cross-border trade offers businesses unique insights into Asia Pacific’s online shopping behavior.
B2B eCommerce transactions have been growing in Singapore and there is a trend of more companies using the country as a base to reach overseas customers in neighboring countries. The Singapore government actively supports eCommerce with various initiatives to help businesses establish strategies locally and abroad while helping them increase sales and productivity.
There are many local fulfilment centers in Singapore and some such as Singapore Post provides a full service end-to-end managed eCommerce solution. Situated at the crossroads of international shipping and air routes, Singapore is a center for transportation and communication in Southeast Asia. With more than 130 airlines serving some 400 cities, Singapore’s Changi Airport has established itself as a major aviation hub in the Asia Pacific region. Singapore is also a leading international maritime center, connected to 600 ports in over 120 countries. The World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index ranked Singapore Asia’s top performer when it comes to global freight forwarding and express carriers. Its well-developed logistics and infrastructure network has attracted major international logistics companies such as FedEx, UPS and DHL to locate major hubs in Singapore.
eCommerce Intellectual Property Rights
The Singapore government has strengthened statutes and regulations to boost consumer confidence in eCommerce. U.S. firms interested in doing business in Singapore should be aware of the following regulations and laws:
Electronic Transactions Act
Sale of Goods Act
Computers Misuse Act
Trade Marks Act
Personal Data Protection Act
Popular eCommerce Sites
Besides Amazon, E-bay, and Apple, other popular eCommerce sites visited by Singaporeans include Taobao, Qoo10, Lazada, Zalora, Carousell, Redmart, Reebonz, HipVan, Alibaba and Honestbee.
Singapore has the most mature eCommerce payment infrastructures in Southeast Asia. A survey by Payvision showed that most domestic eCommerce sales are paid by credit cards and bank transfers. Cash on delivery is not as commonly used in Singapore as in other countries in Southeast Asia. For cross-border purchases, Singapore’s preferred payment methods are credit cards and PayPal.
Smartphones are ubiquitous in the country as Singaporeans use them to listen to music, connect with friends, find restaurants, get the latest news, and shop online. Mobile commerce shows a stronger growth than the overall eCommerce market. Young Singaporean customers (between 18 and 29 years old) are driving this trend; almost three quarters of them use their mobile devices for online shopping. Mobile usage is expected to continue to grow strongly.
Some effective online promotions on eCommerce sites include discounts of 15%, buy one get one free, and/or free delivery.
Major Buying Holidays
Black Fridays, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Google Online Festivals drive online purchases in Singapore.
Singaporeans are among the most active social media users in the world. They use Facebook, YouTube, Google, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest as well as messaging apps such as WhatsApp. The country has one of the most developed ICT infrastructures in the world with a nation-wide super high-speed fiber optic broadband network. According to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), 91.1% of Singaporean households are connected to the internet. In October 2017, Singapore’s mobile penetration reached 148.8% with 3.4 million 3G subscriptions and 4.8 million 4G subscriptions. Singapore is a leading early adopter market for tablet ownership, with household penetration estimated at 54% at the end of 2014. The high adoption rate for mobile devices will drive mobile eCommerce, with 55% of online shoppers choosing to do their shopping via their mobile device, according to PayPal.
Ø TRADE PROMOTION AND ADVERTISING
There are many specialized trade magazines in Singapore and scores of trade fairs that can be used to promote U.S. goods and services. The major English-language daily newspapers are the Straits Times and the Business Times. They are available at http://www.straitstimes.com and http://www.businesstimes.com.sg. The major Chinese daily is Lianhe Zaobao (http://www.zaobao.com). Leads for local advertising and promotional service agencies can be found at http://www.yellowpages.com.sg. Major trade fair organizers include Singapore Exhibition Services (http://www.sesallworld.com/), Reed Exhibition Services (http://www.reedexpo.com.sg/), Experia Events (http://www.experiaevents.com) and Koelnmesse (http://www.koelnmesse.com.sg).
Pricing is very competitive. Major department stores and retail chains offer fixed-price merchandise, while the smaller shops expect buyers to bargain. Hard bargaining is common in the commercial and industrial sectors as well, where buyers usually want a discount, and vendors inflate their initial offers accordingly. Credit terms of 30-60-90 days are common. Buyers will often retain 10% of the sales price for major electronic equipment purchases until the vendor has installed the machine, and it is performing according to specifications.
Typical Product Pricing Structures: Depending on the type of product, importer mark-ups range from 20-40%, while retail mark-ups are often more than 100%. Industrial goods are brought in by stocking distributors, who add on at least 20% before sale to end-users, or by agents whose commissions generally run about 7-10%. These mark-ups are approximate, and will vary widely, depending on the product and the contractual relationship in question.
Ø SALES SERVICE/CUSTOMER SUPPORT
Good sales and customer support are vital in Singapore. The market is so price competitive that client-focused sales support or customer service can make a big difference. Singapore distributors respond well to training on new products, and if properly supported by the U.S. manufacturer will do a good job cultivating old customers and developing new ones.
Ø Principle Business Associations
Singapore Business Federation
The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) is the apex business chamber that champions the interests of the Singapore business community in trade, investment, and industrial relations. It represents 21,500 companies, as well as key local and foreign business chambers, that contribute significantly to the Singapore economy. As the apex business chamber, SBF presents a strong collective voice that:
As a “Business Voice and Value Creator”, SBF is committed to advocating key issues that impact the Singapore business community, helping enterprises develop capabilities and venture overseas.
American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore
The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham) is the leading international business association in Singapore, with over 5,000 members representing more than 700 companies. American companies’ direct investment in Singapore exceeds US$243.7 billion. Its mission is to promote the interests of AmCham members in Singapore and the region by providing insights, advocacy and connections through its programing and publications. AmCham represents its members at the highest levels of government in Singapore and Washington, and advocates on policy issues concerning them.
Ø Limitations on Selling US Products and Services
The business limitations are confined primarily to the professional services such as the legal, accounting and tax services, and engineering and architectural services. Details can be found in the “Investment Climate Statement”.
Ø DUE DILIGENCE
Entities wanting to carry out business in Singapore must register with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). The U.S. Commercial Service Singapore offers the International Company Profile service to American firms wishing to check the bona fides of existing or potential partners. Alternately, U.S. firms can run a check on Singapore companies by accessing the ACRA database. Other credit agencies include Dun & Bradstreet.
Ø WEB RESOURCES
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