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Shopping scene in Singapore launches operation spruce-up
Shifting trends are not sparing the retailing scene in Singapore from the wheel of evolution. Will massive mall makeovers and new developments on its prime shopping street translate into better business for retailers? Property consultants and analysts share their views with Angeline Yeo.
The Singapore government is relaxing its rules on malls in what is seen by Pauline Tan, associate director of retail investor servicesat Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), as a welcome move to make the nation's shopping scene "more interesting and exciting".
And, shoppers are getting a taste of the action on prime shopping district Orchard Road, where malls have begun their spruce-up.
In the lead is 18-year-old Wisma Atria, which has completed a total makeover that replaced its former uniform blue-tile facade with a lot of glass and bright lights. It has also added to the building's vibrant frontage a colour-morphing escalator leading straight to the fourth level, where its refurbished food court lies.
Now easily accessible, and via an attractive conveyor to boot, the newlychristened Food Republic, with its "truly Asian" furnishing, has been the talk of the town since its re-opening in October this year.
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung's associate director of retail, Heidi Yong, describes it as "a total experience". "It has a really interesting theme, with its hawker fare and 'oldies' music," she notes.
Hailing it "innovative", JLL's Tan is certain Wisma has struck gold with its food-court decor, which she thinks will serve as a strong magnet for tourists seeking respite from shopping. "The overall ambience is good, distinctively Asian and makes the consumer want to walk around to see what's being sold," she says.
Recalling how the crowd in the past used to fill the basement and first few storeys only to peter out on the higher floors, Tan believes the eatery will bring traffic to the otherwise less-trodden upper levels. "Once you get the traffic to flow up, the retail stores in between will definitely benefit as well," Tan reckons.
Further down the road from Wisma, Singapore's oldest mall - Centrepoint - is also undergoing a face-lift and expanding its retail space. It will unveil its new look next year.
Not all malls are going for the external treatment, however. Ngee Ann City, one of the country's largest malls, is looking inwards, with its tenants making changes instead. The recentlyrevamped Dior boutique, for example, is now brighter and more cheery while the Cartier outlet has embarked on some cosmetic changes.
Indeed, shoppers can look forward to a brand-new Orchard Road by 2010, says Tan.
Contributing to the newness of the Orchard Road belt will be the muchanticipated mall on Orchard Turn, which is touted to be the shopping district's new icon to watch.
The Orchard Turn site, one of the few remaining plots of land in the area, has drawn a minimum bid of S$600 million (US$355.4 million) in government land sales (GLS), or about S$443 psf of potential gross floor area (GFA), since end-September, reports JLL's Singapore-property research paper. The tender for the site closes on December 8.
Another site offered for tender is on Somerset Road, which runs parallel to the Orchard Road precinct. It has, at press time, fetched a S$200-million bid, or S$515psf of potential GFA.
More excitement on the horizon is expected from the proposed integrated resorts (IR) at Marina South. Although bidding for this has yet to start, the mega project, plus the action on Orchard Road, looks set to put Singapore firmly on the international retail map - all driven by the agenda to capture as much of the tourist dollar as possible by 2015.
Why the aggressive revamp?
Competing to be the region's shopping paradise is putting pressure on the government to notch up Singapore's hip quotient.
"Especially with the advent of budget airlines, it's easy for consumers to just leave the country and enjoy better shopping and services," says DTZ's Yong. "Singaporeans are so savvy and discerning now, they won't settle for anything but the best."
Tan, however, is more optimistic. "While budget airlines make it easier and more affordable for Singaporeans to travel [to other shopping destinations], we would like to think that it is just as easy for people to travel to ours. The need to upgrade is, therefore, important."
The makeover efforts in the country have so far been greeted with mixed reactions. |
DTZ's executive director, Ong Choon Fah, is confident that mall makeovers will inject "a new lease of life" into the industry, taking competition to a new height. This "creative construction", as she calls it, "will have a positive impact on retailing in Singapore, turning out stronger, better businesses".
Less certain is Tan, who sees mall refurbishment as cosmetic, doing much to spruce up the street's image but is no guarantee of better business for retailers. All the same, she remains hopeful.
Underneath the massive makeover of malls, a transformation in their tenant mix is also taking place. The clearest trend is seeing large department stores making way for smaller, more conceptbased retail shops. A younger feel to malls notwithstanding, this move is seen by Tan as economically inspired for landlords.
As department stores take up a lot of space, "their psf rental will not be as lucrative to landlords" as will smaller retail shops, she points out.
But this does not mean the end of anchors. Just like the phenomenon on the international scene, instead of one major anchor, landlords in Singapore might prefer a 'mini-anchor' on each floor to drive traffic to that floor, which is "more cost-beneficial", Tan reasons.
There also appears to be emphasis on incorporating wellness-orientated facilities within malls.
"More and more wellness- and health-associated retail brands like California Fitness and
Amore are coming to Singapore because of the high penetration rate, and the increasing awareness of health and fitness among Singaporeans," says Yong.
Among wellness-service outlets found in malls are The Good Earth Foot Wellness Spa, and Jean Yip Beauty and Slimming at Parco Bugis Junction. In the Orchard Road area, the California Fitness centre is just across the road from the Heeren shopping mall and Cineleisure - which also houses an Amore fitness centre. Even the upscale Paragon mall sports Fitness First in a clear signal of the rising importance of wellness and beauty alongside shopping.
Yong surmises that this is an initiative that caters to the nation's new working demographic, with precious little time for self-indulgence. She reckons that set-ups dedicated to wellness, such as the new Guardian at Suntec City, are targeted at highlystressed office workers, for whom even 20 minutes at a spa to de-stress will help. Spas in malls are easily accessible to people hard pressed for time to simply "pop in" for a quick rejuvenation.
The new fast-paced lifestyle is also spurring the growth of gadget-related concept stores in the country, Yong observes, citing Sony Gallery as an example of an outlet with "little toys" of comfort to soothe "difficult lifestyles".
But going by feedback from Tan's overseas clients, concept stores in Singapore still have a long way to go. compared with their "much bigger" western counterparts.
Tan pins this on the lack of space. "Our occupancy rate is ... nearly 100%, so we just don't have the luxury to create the space needed," she says. "But we're still ahead in the region, where we're mainly competing with Hong Kong."
Future of retailing in Singapore
Indispensable to the city state's retailing scene is service, an issue dwelled on by the republic's prime minister in his national day speech this year. The retail industry is responding with a massive plan to improve service quality.
In his opening address at the recent Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) Ball, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chan Soo Sen also highlighted service as one of the key determinants of whether a company would be successful.
Good service is "heartfelt", not mechanical, he stressed. "Retailers need to do more to allow employees to not only meet the service standards we desire, but also show a heartfelt desire to serve the customer. It is relatively easy to provide training and education, but not as easy to develop a service mindset that is sustainable."
JLL's Tan, who views service as a means of survival, urges: "We cannot fall short anymore. Service will add to the vibrancy of [the shopping scene] and enhance the shopper's experience here."
To speed up the process, she proposes educating both new and longserving employees .
Tan also finds it relevant for retailers, in their chase for the tourist dollar, to bank on the country's general safety and affordable transportation system to improve nightlife.
The refurbished Clarke Quay is one development that has taken the night scene in Singapore to the next level with new features bearing fancy names. Its Blue Bells and Lilypads, for example, are pod-like fixtures that have done much to create space at the riverfront for alfresco dining, while overhead airventilation, called Angels, are programmable projectors that "perform a dance of colours" to brighten up the streets.
Says Dawn Tan, centre manager of Clarke Quay: "CapitaLand Retail has received very positive feedback from tenants and customers. Business has improved tremendously since the opening of the new riverfront and is still growing steadily."
The Clarke Quay, which has been attracting much attention since its refurbishment, sees a spike in patronage at its retail and F&B outlets - a promising sign for retailers at other malls emerging from their face-lifts.