Kopitiam takes e-payment to next level with cryptocurrencies

S$500,000 system at KOPItech in Funan mall accepts numerous payment modes, including in bitcoin, ethereum and creatanium


KOPITIAM foodcourts are a mainstay of many Singapore malls, and the revamped Funan mall that opened on Friday is no different, with a Kopitiam installed in its basement.

What sets it apart however, is how the humble foodcourt has been reinvented to keep up with the times - KOPItech will feature 20 self-service kiosks linked to an e-payment system that accepts numerous payment modes, including in cryptocurrencies.

Kopitiam's chief executive officer Alden Tan tells The Business Times that the KOPItech system cost about S$500,000 to develop in-house, and the decision to make it compatible with cryptocurrencies stemmed from his own curiosity about blockchain and a desire to reach a growing segment of highly tech-savvy customers.

"Allowing cryptocurrencies will help us to learn more about this segment of the payment system," Mr Tan says.

"This group of customers may grow in the future, so this is what we want to attract. We are always mindful of how we could add more customers to the foodcourt."

KOPItech accepts three cryptocurrencies - bitcoin, ethereum and creatanium.

The conversion of cryptocurrencies to fiat will be done on a weekly basis by Kopitiam and its fintech partner, with Kopitiam bearing the risks of any currency fluctuations. Stallholders will continue to receive their earnings in Singapore dollars, just like at any other outlet.

At KOPItech, customers will order food and make payment at stall-specific kiosks, centralised kiosks that display menus from nearly all the stalls in the foodcourt, or via the Facebook Messenger app using Quick Response (QR) codes located on each table.

With this tech-based system, Kopitiam hopes to reduce the snaking queues often seen at foodcourts during lunch hour, as well as help stallholders improve productivity.

Customers will get to spend more time talking to their lunch companions instead of queueing, and only need to look out for their numbers on several screens located around the foodcourt to know when their food is ready.

"Three years ago, we wanted to do something different and ride on the trend of technology, and along the way, we were thinking of how we could make this foodcourt different," Mr Tan says.

With the self-service kiosks and kitchen display systems, "(stallholders) can concentrate on doing their best, which is cooking and serving, and leave the chore of taking orders and changing money to the machine".

The Funan outlet will serve as a testbed for the KOPItech system, and if the response is good, Kopitiam may consider rolling it out, together with the cryptocurrency option, to other outlets.

Mr Tan shares that Kopitiam chose to develop the KOPItech system in-house so that it can be tailored to Kopitiam's needs without relying on third-party suppliers.

Like the Kopitiam stored-value card launched 15 years ago that allowed Kopitiam to easily tweak the amount of discount it offers to hospital staff versus the general public, the KOPItech system will allow Kopitiam to offer incentives like discounts for those who use e-payments rather than cash.

The toughest challenge, Mr Tan reckons, will be getting customers and stallholders to embrace this new way of ordering and paying for food.

However, he believes that the industry will benefit from the improved productivity and better customer experience if more foodcourt operators adopt the system.

The data collected from the Kopitiam outlet in Funan will also direct Kopitiam's next innovations.

"From the data analysis, we will be able to think of something that can serve them more, be it offering food delivery, or expanding on some payment mode that I think will bring more customers to the outlet," he says.

Kopitiam was acquired by NTUC Enterprise last year, and collaborations with the other social enterprises under the NTUC Enterprise umbrella are in the works.

"At the new Funan, we will collaborate with NTUC FairPrice Finest to offer perks to customers who shop at Finest and dine at KOPItech. Our KOPItech stallholders can get cost savings by purchasing their ingredients from FairPrice," Mr Tan shares.

If these initiatives are successful, they could be rolled out at other malls in Singapore where Kopitiam and FairPrice are co-located, he adds.

"There are plenty of opportunities," says Mr Tan. "We are only six months young in this NTUC family, so we hope to do more. I'm sure our bosses will be able to guide us on how to collaborate and synergise and do good together."

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