The unauthorised sale of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) apparel and equipment is an offence, but these items are still openly sold on China's popular Taobao e-commerce website.
Such online competition, coupled with an impending lease expiry, have added to the woes of vendors at the Beach Road army market. On Taobao, items such as uniforms, kneepads, elbow guards, water pouches, boots and even berets can be found.
The army's chief supply officer, Colonel Keith Ho, said: "We wish to stress that the unauthorised sale of SAF equipment by servicemen and contracted suppliers is prohibited and we take a serious view on this matter." He added: "We advise servicemen to procure their personal equipment from authorised sources like the SAF eMart or from the official online eMart website, which can be found on the NS portal."
The unauthorised sale of SAF gear is an offence under military law. Those guilty of misappropriation or theft of SAF property can be jailed for up to three years.
In 1997, the armed forces introduced the SAF eMart, in which personnel are given credits to buy equipment online or at eMart outlets. But the unauthorised sale of SAF equipment online has still been reported. In 2010, for example, army-issued helmets were put up for sale on online forums HardwareZone and Gumtree.
It's very quiet now. People prefer to go online. There used to be a lot of people here on weekends in the past.
SHOP OWNER JEFFREY YAP
Meanwhile, the availability of army items online has affected the business of the Beach Road army market located on the second storey of the 38-year-old Golden Mile Food Centre.In 2012, freesheet My Paper reported that more than 10 vendors were hawking cotton T-shirts or singlets with the SAF logo on Taobao.
Only a handful of the shops there still sell army gear. Most of the owners of these shops are in their 60s and 70s. Other shops have turned to selling outdoor gear and camping equipment.
Most of the shops selling authorised army gear were sold under the Government's Stall Ownership Scheme in 1996 for about $60,000 per unit. When the stalls' 20-year leases expire in December, they will be returned to the Government and stallholders will become tenants.
Businesses said profits have halved compared with five years ago. Shop owner Jeffrey Yap said: "It's very quiet now. People prefer to go online.
"There used to be a lot of people here on weekends in the past."
The 65-year-old opened his shop 20 years ago, but stopped selling military gear about three years back. "I now focus on backpacks, camping equipment, deck chairs and water bottles," he said.
A 75-year-old shop owner, who gave her name only as Madam Liew, said in Malay: "There used to be a lot of people here but business now is difficult." Her 30-year-old shop has T-shirts, socks, backpacks and "a little bit of everything", including glow sticks.
Mr Lim Gin Peng, 75, who has been selling army gear for 25 years, has also been hit by online competition. He said: "People want things cheap and compare them to eMart prices. But I need to profit also."