Retail recovery ‘two steps forward, one step back’: Knight Frank

This is due to the recurring outbreaks of infections.

Recovery of the retail market is “two steps forward, one step back” due to the recurring waves in coronavirus infections and the implementation of measures to curb its spread, according to Knight Frank.

“However, repeated instances of regressing to stricter measures would merely delay recovery, not derail it,” it added.

Knight Frank said that the present economic rebound, increasing vaccination rates, resumption of group gatherings up to five in food and beverage establishments starting 12 July “point to retail activity picking up in the latter half of the year.”

Retail sales index excluding motor vehicles, expanded 63.3% year-on-year (YoY) in May to 86.7, on the back growth in sales with watches and jewellery, and department stores segments, it said.

Knight Frank said watches and jewellery, and department stores recorded the highest growth in the same month, increasing 1,926.1% and 524.4% in May YoY, respectively.

Retail sales, excluding motor vehicles, from April to May, reached around S$5.6b, a 47.4% increase from S$3.8b in the same period last year. The circuit breaker last year from 7 April to 1 June led to the closure of non-essential stores and restrictions on mobility, affecting the retail market.

Despite the implementation of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures in the second quarter from 16 May to 13 June, “the impact on the retail sector was not as severe as physical stores were still allowed to operate, although no indoor “mask-off” activities such as dining-in were allowed.”

The proportion of online retail sales also rose, comprising 16.1% of the total retail trade in May 2021, the highest since the 16.3% reported in November 2020.

Knight Frank, however, said that as Singapore gradually allow dining-in and indoor activities, the proportion of online retail sales is expected to moderate in the coming months, “barring any recurring outbreaks calling for restrictive measures again.”

“Spirit of entrepreneurship” grew despite the pandemic, noting that since exiting the circuit breaker in 2020, the number of businesses formed within the retail trade and F&B service activities sectors averaged at least 1,000 every month for 13 months. This surpassed the monthly average of retail-related businesses formation in 2017 and 2019.

Knight Frank also said cooking classes, fitness, and recreational-related activities, as well as experiential workshops, also catered to Singapore consumers that were affected by travel restrictions. “These homegrown businesses should be encouraged and allowed to take root in a new era of adventurous entrepreneurship, infusing variety into Singapore’s retail landscape.”

Meanwhile, prime retail rent continued to decline in the second quarter as the island-wise gross rent averaged S$26.20 per square foot per month, a 9.3% YoY slide, driven by the fall in the average gross rents of prime spaces in the central region by some 11% to 11.% YoY as there are still no tourist footfall due to travel bans.

Rental decreases in the suburban regions were more moderate compared to the central areas as workers returned to working from home.

“With rental declines easing, retail rents are envisaged to bottom out in the third quarter, with hopeful signs of a possible marginal gain in certain locations in the last quarter of 2021 as Singapore progresses to a state of normalcy,” Knight Frank said.

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