Singapore: Retail paradise lost?

Singapore is losing its shine as a shopping haven, inbound veterans tell Pamela Chow

Despite spending figures on an uptrend, inbound agents believe that Singapore is past its glory days as a shopping paradise, citing regional competition and e-commerce as the main threats.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) recorded a 38 per cent year-on-year increase in tourist shopping expenditure for 1Q2017, reaching S$1,600 million (US$1,183 million) and taking up the the lion’s share of total tourism receipts.

However, industry veterans express little faith in selling the image of Singapore as a retail hub. The common grouse, besides digital commerce, is the more competitive exchange rates in neighbouring countries.

Although 69 per cent of global luxury and fashion brands are present in Singapore, according to STB, this is no longer a strong selling point as brands are setting up shop in “developing countries” where the currency is cheaper, said Philip Gejon, senior sales & marcom manager – B2B, TAcentre.com.

Joseph Sze, project director of Siam Express, noted that Singapore’s top retail rival is Thailand, which offers cheaper prices and more variety.

“Singapore cannot just promote its shopping any more,” opined Sze. “Even the iconic Orchard Road is no longer seen as a place to shop, but an attraction to simply visit.”

Instead, Sze observed that tourists are preferring to spend on local handicrafts and cultural products offered beyond franchised and chain stores.

Ranita Sundra, director, attractions, dining & retail, STB, noted that the diversity of products offered “by our ethnic enclaves and heritage brands (as well as) a new wave of Singapore designers” is one of the country’s current strengths in retail.

To polish up Singapore’s retail scene, operators suggest enhancing retail spaces with experiential and value-added services unique to the country. Sze offered: “Singapore could integrate attractions with its shopping malls.”

As well, Gejon recommended developing “more support for local brands to make the Singapore shopping experience very ‘local’ – something that cannot be experienced in other parts of the world”.

Going forward, STB is developing a project to revive the vigour of Orchard Road.

Sundra revealed: “STB is launching a Singapore designer showcase come end-2018 at Orchard Green. It will be a space that celebrates Singapore design and carries brands and products by Singapore designers while providing facilities and work studios to help designers in their back-end production work.”

The board is also “(working) closely with industry stakeholders such as the Singapore Retailers Association to inject vibrancy into the retail scene through a year-round calendar of events such as the Great Singapore Sale and Singapore Golden Week”, as well as “(supporting) initiatives that profile Singapore designers and local brands as they can become a strong point of differentiation and draw for tourists”, said Sundra.

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