Orchard Road is a bit of a joke these days. Once the crowning glory of Singapore, the Orchard stretch is now thought of as an overcrowded hellhole, and even fashionistas prefer to buy their clothes online or overseas, since the increasingly characterless malls now carry all the same mass market stuff.
Ask any true blue Singaporean and they’ll tell you about the decline of Orchard Road, from its glory days as everyone’s favourite hangout to somewhere that doesn’t even measure up to surfing online store websites at home.
In fact, a recent news report painted a miserable picture as it told of Orchard Road malls haunted by vacated shops, thanks to the increasing trend of Singaporeans choosing to shop in heartland malls or stay home and order stuff online.
While that’s obviously not good news for struggling retailers and greedy landlords, it might actually yield some benefits for Singaporeans, such as the following.
Frees up real estate space for stuff that matters
Once upon a time, Singaporeans used to adore shopping malls, but these days the shopping-crazy nation is actually complaining about the ridiculous number of malls the island is crowded with.
If even Singaporeans, whose main hobbies are eating and shopping, are complaining about the number of malls, it’s clear we could do with fewer.
Developers have been snapping up land and building cookie cutter malls because, for the longest time, that was a smart investment. But now that so many malls are basically flopping because Singaporeans no longer have an incentive to make the trip there just to see another Uniqlo/H&M/Giordano, it might be time to put that land to better use.
Singaporeans now have a wider range of interests and prefer to spend their leisure time in ways other than walking zombie-like in and out of shops. We’re travelling more than ever, and more people are starting to crave nature and culture.
With fewer malls, land can be freed up and developed into parks, community spaces or recreational facilities. A great example is the former Singapore Badminton Hall on Guillemard Road, which has been developed into a recreational space housing a yoga studio, rock climbing gym and more. Now, imagine if that land had been re-zoned and developed into the newest mall, Guillemard 100.
Retailers are forced to add value to the customer experience
It’s really not hard to see why customers no longer want to head to Orchard Road. Not only do many items cost more on Orchard Road than online, due to the fact that customers of brick and mortar stores end up absorbing the cost of the retailer’s rent, importation fees and so on, let’s face it, the purchasing experience is also a lot more unpleasant.
I mean, which would you pick, browsing an online store from the comfort of your own home, placing an order with your credit card and then waiting for SingPost to deliver it? Or squeezing onto public transport (or paying ERP and fighting for parking space) and getting elbowed by crowds at Orchard Road, only to be met with substandard service at a brick and mortar store, all to buy something that’s even more expensive than it is online?
Retailers need to accept that for most customers, going to their brick and mortar stores is a hassle. Shopping on Orchard is in itself no longer enjoyable. To make the trip worthwhile, retailers will have to find new ways to add value to the customer experience.
One reason pop-up stores have become so popular lately is because short-term leases are less risky for landlords, and also because customers tend to flock to them due to the novelty and the unique products on offer.
Companies like Best Denki have been investing more in staff training, acknowledging that the need for good services is more crucial than ever.
And some retailers like Muji and Project Shop, behind the original PS.Cafe branch in Paragon, have enjoyed success by opening attached cafés to encourage customers to hang out on their premises and, hopefully, buy stuff.
Online shopping can force buyers to be more conscious about how much they are paying for goods
Singaporeans have big problems with overspending, as evidenced by rising levels of consumer debt. The fact that Singaporeans are doing more of their spending online might not be such a bad thing.
While there will always be those people who spend their life savings on nonsensical online purchases, for Singaporeans with a modicum of self-control, avoiding the malls can actually lead to increased savings.
Not only are many products online cheaper than they are in brick and mortar stores due to lower overheads, buying online also gives you the chance to compare prices, since you no longer have to run around miles and miles of shopping malls hunting for your items.
It’s also a lot easier to keep track of your spending when you can hold onto items in your shopping cart before paying at the end of your session, than it is when you’re walking from shop to shop.
It may be a loss for local retailers, but at least for ordinary Singaporeans whose livelihoods do not depend on the future of the retail industry, not having to head to malls to buy stuff is definitely a good thing.
Do you prefer to buy things online or in shopping malls? Tell us in the comments!