HDB shops go digital with display signboards equipped with CCTV cameras

At the corner of Block 201D, there is Ali's Hairdressing & Beauty Salon. Looking for O Smile Shoe? Turn right and it is round the corner.

Visitors trying to navigate the maze of shops at the foot of HDB blocks often get lost. But now, shoppers in Tampines Street 21 can refer to large, luminous digital signboards along the walkways.

Similar to shopping mall directories, these screens display maps of HDB shops in the neighbourhood, and point out the nearby ATMs, AXS and SAM machines.

Going digital has taken the heartland quite a while. But Tampines Merchant Association has taken the plunge in the hopes that it can help the heartland shops in its neighbourhood resist stiff competition from suburban malls and online retailers. Shops in other parts of Singapore said they may follow in its footsteps.

"It's like a giant iPad," joked Mr Andy Ang, 45, who owns electronics store Music Point Entertainment at Block 201D. "We rely mostly on regular customers, but maybe these (digital displays) can lead more people from elsewhere to us."

Prior to the initiative's launch in August last year, there were only signs which indicated shop names and their unit numbers.

A total of 18 digital signboards have popped up in four of the blocks in Tampines Street 21.

These are no ordinary directories either - they come with in-built closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to help reduce crime.

They can also intermittently flash announcements about neighbourhood events and shop promotions.

Tampines Merchant Association, which oversees about 200 shops in the area, hopes it will help more people locate shops easily.

"The digital displays are visually clearer and more appealing," its chairman Kwek Hong Lim, 40, told The Straits Times, comparing them to traditional noticeboards. "We also save some time in updating the content."

Funds for the installation and maintenance of these directories were pooled by some of the shop owners. And while the idea to include cameras first came about to deter vandalism of the new gadgets, it soon evolved into a greater crime surveillance effort.

The police gave their input on the possible locations, camera angles and CCTV specifications for these directories.The footage, which covers some blind spots of existing police cameras, is streamed to the merchant association's office and can be retrieved when necessary.

Shop owners described the directories as helpful. Fruit shop owner Teng Teck Chung, 58, said: "Some new customers said they found us because of the signboards."

K&K Aquarium & Bird Centre's manager Low Chia Siong, 44, suggested that the monolingual directories should consider displaying information in other local languages.

"Some of the older folk may not understand English," he said.

Office cleaner Subbulakshmi Nadeson, 67, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said the surveillance cameras on the directories make her feel safer. "It's good to have extra eyes watching. If anything happens, the police can have evidence and track the culprit."

In a bid to draw more footfall to the shops, Mr Kwek's association has plans to take its digital revolution further. Next month, it will launch a free Wi-Fi network for customers and shopkeepers to use.

This could inspire shops in other estates to do the same. Clementi Town Shop Owners' Association chairman Lim Hai Teck, 57, said of the digital displays and Wi-Fi: "These are good ideas that make things more convenient for everybody.

"Cost might be a problem, but it's definitely something we can explore."

This article was first published on Nov 03, 2016.
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