While there is still room for improvement, the retail industry - which has seen productivity growth of 3-4 per cent annually over the last three years - is on the right track.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council (NPCEC) Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: "There's a lot of work ahead but it's an industry that is already moving, and they are on the journey to higher productivity."

He also highlighted that it is important for industry leaders and more innovative firms to move ahead and gain market share, which is another way to raise productivity.

Mr Tharman, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and other members of the NPCEC yesterday visited Wing Tai Retail to get a first-hand look at some of the initiatives put in place to boost productivity.

Like many other industry players, Wing Tai Retail is grappling with challenges such as a tight labour market, high operating costs, stiff competition as well as the gravitation towards online shopping.

To contain costs and retain its customer base, the multi-brand lifestyle retailer has been leveraging technology in initiatives such as its manpower scheduler project, which matches manpower scheduling with demand forecasts to use resources more efficiently.

It is also tapping social media platforms to understand and engage customers, and reach out to prospective part-time employees.

Meanwhile, its in-house specialised training enables staff to develop a career in areas such as visual merchandising and sales, while helping the company to raise service standards.

The retail industry creates jobs for over 108,000 employees, resulting in a nominal value-added (VA) per worker of about $43,000. An $86 million retail productivity plan was launched in 2011 with the aim of boosting the nominal VA per worker by 25 per cent by 2015.

By end-September, over 300 retail companies had been supported with productivity and service upgrading projects.

By June, some 13,000 firms from different industries had benefited from government initiatives and schemes aimed at driving productivity.