Four in 10 HDB residents shop online, more interacting with neighbours on Internet: Survey

SINGAPORE – Online shopping may have had an impact on Housing Board (HDB) shops.

Close to 50 per cent of those who bought items online reported they had shopped less at HDB shops in the latest HDB Sample Household Survey which is conducted once every five years.

The latest survey, done in 2018, also showed that HDB residents also generally interacted slightly less with their neighbours, though the proportion who communicated with their neighbours in online chat groups or through social media more than doubled from 2013.

The survey results, released on Sunday (Feb 14), said that about four in 10 HDB residents had made online purchases through websites and mobile applications in 2018, with a higher proportion of online shoppers living in four-room or bigger flat types.

The majority of online shoppers were also aged 45 years and below, and likely to be from families with young children.

Clothing and footwear were the top items purchased online, followed by phones and electronic products.

Commenting on the survey results, Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore Business School said that the question of HDB shops’ survival amid the rise of e-commerce was a chicken-and-egg problem.

“The younger people will not turn to HDB shops unless they are upgraded and made upmarket. Yet these shops will not move upwards unless there is a market… If we want to preserve the HDB shops, if we value the social contribution of these shops, we will need an impetus from the HDB or other authorities,” he said.

In a press release, the HDB said that heartland shops continued to play an important role in serving the needs of residents, notwithstanding the trend towards online shopping. It said it would continue to support neighbourhood shops to boost their vibrancy and competitiveness through various schemes.

The HDB survey polled about 7,800 HDB households. The HDB said the surveys provided valuable feedback to enhance the design of flats, neighbourhoods and HDB estates.

“Going forward, HDB will continue to keep pace with residents’ evolving needs and lifestyles. We are also studying how HDB flat designs can support developments in the future of work, including trends that may have been accelerated by the current pandemic, such as telecommuting,” said a HDB spokesman.

Interactions with neighbours

The latest survey showed the proportion of those who exchanged greetings with their neighbours dropped from 98.6 per cent in 2013 to 97 per cent, while the figure for who indulged in casual conversations dipped from 97 per cent to 94.4 per cent.

Instead, more interacted online. Close to 12 per cent said they communicated with neighbours on chat groups or on social media, compared with 4.8 per cent in 2013.

Participation rates in organised community activities also dropped over the past five years, with about 39 per cent saying they did so in 2018, compared with 48.6 per cent in 2013.

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When asked about where they interacted with their neighbours, more than four in five respondents said they did so within the block. This was up from about 76 per cent in 2013.

The rest said they did so within their neighbourhoods, precincts, or towns in places like hawker centres, parks or bus stops.

The proportion of residents who said they faced nuisances from neighbours also dropped, with 30 per cent of households saying they did so in 2018, compared with 48.1 per cent in 2013. The main types of nuisances were noise from neighbours, littering and smoking at common areas.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan from the Singapore Management University said more creative approaches were needed to encourage residents to interact socially, such as by getting them involved in organising activities, and by finding out the likes and dislikes of residents within each neighbourhood, which would vary depending on demographics.

“We need to move away from the idea that residents are just passive consumers of social activities… These activities should be ground-up initiatives, which will encourage active engagement,” she said.

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Views on estate

More than nine in ten in the survey said they were satisfied with their flat, neighbourhood and estate facilities.

Elderly households had the highest levels of satisfaction with their flats when compared with those in younger age groups, with close to 97 per cent of elderly households saying they were satisfied compared with about 90 per cent of those aged below 35.

Households which were dissatisfied with their flats faced issues such as spalling concrete and ceiling leaks which occur in older flats, said HDB. It added that it would continue to help flat owners address maintenance issues related to older flats.

The frequency of residents’ usage of commercial facilities such as wet markets, coffee shops and hawker centres dropped. There was a slight increase in the proportion of residents who went to the supermarket at least once a week, from 80 per cent in 2013 to 81.4 per cent in 2018.

More than eight in 10 of employed residents said they were satisfied with the time taken to travel to work, and almost all residents said they had a sense of belonging to their towns and estates.

About a quarter of residents said they had fond memories of places within their towns. About half in this group associated those memories to HDB blocks, precinct facilities like void decks and playgrounds, as well as parks and gardens.

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