Singapore's retail sector has been slowing down in the past two years, and retail rents are starting to be affected in line with the steady decline in occupancy rates. The strong Sing Dollar and weak consumer sentiment in China is expected to further dampen growth in the coming months.
Malls and retail stores are investing in new ways to understand their consumers and designing new store concepts and promotions to drive traffic to their physical stores. Yet, consumers are quick to jump onto new trends, making these investments less effective.
Innovative local players are starting to take a new approach of strategic collaborations to continually refresh their stores.
Encouraging visitors to interact with the products help to drive purchases. My Little Brick Shop features bespoke LEGO creations designed by local interest groups, and lets visitors handle, mix, and match loose bricks to customise their own purchases. My Imagination Kingdom is a children's concept store that engages a storyteller to bring its books to life.
Customers appreciate products and services that are complementary to the shopping experience. Make-up artists are frequently seen at fashion retailer Robinsons, offering special sessions for its members to complete their overall look. *Scape sponsors the venue for Elephant Slacklines to bring the sport to its visitors each week, contributing to the vibrancy of the youth-focused mall.
Mixing up space usage can add different layers of interest to consumers. The Training Shed's café welcomes graffiti crews locally and overseas to decorate its wall. These sessions provide a visual spectacle for its other patrons. Similarly, local tea house Arteastiq encourages its customers to enjoy their tea while painting at an adjoining art jam studio.
It is when different influences are mixed that fascinating new concepts are forged. Blue Jazz Café runs jam sessions where musicians of various countries using different instruments can play together and experiment across genres. Scanteak is a local furniture brand that has achieved success in several countries, using Scandinavian design principles on materials sourced in Asia.
Symbiotic relationships help retailers expand on their core offerings. Kki Sweets serves Japanese-inspired French mousse cakes, but forms collaborations with partners such as a sushi bar to keep their store concept fresh. The Museum of Art and Design offers cigar and whiskey in its bar, attracting a premium segment of consumers who also appreciate art and design at its premises.
More local brands are jointly developing products with international partners. Local gift gallery Supermama integrates local designs with traditional craftsmanship from Japan, to produce unique, high-quality souvenir items. Furniture showroom Grafunkt's displays thoughtfully blend products designed locally by its founder Nathan Yong with furniture designed overseas, offering a rich selection of forward-thinking designs to its customers.
These examples show us that malls can go beyond their dominant strategy of wooing new-to-market retailers or revamping their tenant mix, as these can be disruptive to existing retailers. Retailers similarly have an opportunity to avoid costly renovations and frequent changes in product line, just to entice customers into their stores.
Thinking laterally about new forms of non-traditional partnerships can easily help Singapore's retail sector conceive creative in-store experiences that will encourage powerful, word-of-mouth endorsements to new visitors, drive larger basket sizes among consumers, as well as delight and retain existing customers.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Calvin Chu Yee Ming is Managing Partner at social innovation firm Eden Strategy Institute. Calvin also serves as an Executive Advisor to NUS Enterprise's Social Venturing Programme, an iAdvisor with IE Singapore, and as an Associate Lecturer in Strategy and Organisation with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.