Are there too many malls in Singapore?

By Chris Reed

The other day I wanted to go to Kallang Leisure Park for some shopping but the taxi driver said that with the NDP rehearsals on that I should try another mall. I had my choice. Too much in fact.

It got me thinking about whether there were really too many malls in Singapore and whether more time and resource should be spent on differentiating them with content and marketing.

On my journey we went past 112 Katong (I refuse to call it the terrible marketing gimmicks name of "I want 2"), Katong V and in between there are two more malls being developed, and this was all in the space of a kilometre on one road. All of these malls are in the shadow of the enormous Parkway Parade.

Then we made our way to the newly opened Paya Lebar Square and on the way passed the newly opened One KM -- all with virtually the same shops, just their competitors or sister shops -- and past the older City Plaza and sister mall. Surely too many malls in the same area for the catchment area?

I had a meeting the other day out West and past the new Jem mall and within a couple of kilometres went on to the newly opened Westgate Mall, again with virtually all the same shops in, just their competitors or sister shops.

More centrally there is the newly revamped Shaw Plaza opposite the Scotts Square mall which both having had reports of low traffic and outlets closing because of it.

The same has applied to brand new malls Orchard Central and Orchard Gateway which in turn have taken traffic away from Central which is next door and has lost brands and is having a massive refit.

There is also 268 Orchard Road mall challenging all of the aforementioned malls and the older ones like Ngee Ann City, Paragon, Ion, Plaza Singapura (also recently renovated).

The enormous and maze like Suntec mall has been completely revamped and remodelled to attract yet more people to the same retail and dining outlets as appear everywhere else. When I went through it the other day many shops were deserted and many areas had no footfall at all.

Apparently it has various themes although I couldn't spot them: The Galleria, The Tropics, The Entertainment Centre (their brainstorm ran out of ideas by this stage), and the Fountain Terrace.

Seletar Mall only recently opened as did HillV2 (who named it this needs their head examined as it sounds very similar to HIV) as did Big Box Mall which is apparently one of the largest in Singapore supposedly offering a new concept but the same shops and dining options as everyone else. I haven't had time to visit that as I have spent too much time in all the other malls!

Newly opened Kallang Wave Mall is more for active customers as it's next to the Sports Hub whereas Bedok Mall is more mass as is the new East Village Mall and the older Serangoon Nex Mall.

Bugis Mall has a younger image but still has all the same shops and dining options as the rest as does its sister mall Bugis+ (the brainstorm team didn't even meet for that naming session).

Singapore is unique in having more dining outlets in malls than retail ones because of the culture here of eating out and socialising rather than eating at home. It was one of the first things that I noticed when I first came here six years ago. The food courts and centres along with more interesting gourmet dining options anchoring malls are often as important as the big retail malls anchoring them.

But Singapore is not alone in this oversupply of malls. According to China Confidential, two-thirds of Chinese urban consumers regularly visit shopping malls. 40.9 percent of mall visitors go to malls at least once a week.

On average, mall visitors made nine purchases or transactions over the past six months, with total annual spending in excess of Rmb700bn ($113bn). I would wager that this figure will be less in Singapore as many people go to windowshop, enjoy the free kids activities, and most of all for the free airconditioning to escape the humidity and heat outside.

China accounted for 44 percent of total global shopping mall completions in 2014, according to CBRE, with more mall space added in the central city of Wuhan alone (993,000 square metres) than in the whole of the Americas (800,000 sq m).

While the Chinese malls may be full of luxury brands, Apple dealers, and western brands, Singapore's malls seemed to all consist of Uniqlo and H&M, McDonald's and Burger King. People no longer have to go to one mall to find their favourite brand; they're everywhere. Where are the differentiated malls?

Funan, the technology mall, is about the only mall in Singapore along with Velocity, the active mall, that actually differentiates itself through the tenants. Everyone else has overlap of retailers and food outlets.

The 112 Katong story is a warning of what happens when there are too many of the same malls in the same place with the same shops and restaurants. It opened to great fanfare in affluent East Coast/Joo Chiat area.

Three years on more than half the original tenants have moved out and many have not been replaced leaving vast empty spaces on every floor. If it wasn't for the Golden Village Cinema, (which the neighbouring malls and super mall Parkway nearby do not have), it would be even more deserted than it currently is.

Many malls depend upon tourist numbers which have fallen in 2014 but that really only affects Orchard Road, not malls in the East or West.

There are 103 malls in Singapore, that's one for every 53,000 people living in Singapore. Is that sustainable? The evidence from malls and retailers would suggest not.

What do you think? Can you have too many malls? Does Singapore have too many of the same kind of malls with the same mix of tenants?

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