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VIRUS OUTBREAK

Suburban malls trump Orchard shops as shoppers return

Promotions, discounts to clear seasonal goods expected to draw more consumers in the coming days

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Some retailers in Ion Orchard, such as Sephora (above), Zara and Louis Vuitton, had queues of shoppers waiting patiently to enter the stores.

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Some retailers in Ion Orchard, such as Sephora, Zara (above) and Louis Vuitton, had queues of shoppers waiting patiently to enter the stores.

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Jewel Changi was quiet, with no queues at the popular Shake Shack fast-food restaurant.

Singapore

SHOPPERS ventured back out on Friday cautiously but purposefully, as Singapore began the second phase of its plan to reopen the economy.

Several retailers reported that their stores in suburban malls generally saw better turnout than those in central areas. They also noted that customers overall were decisive and spent more on average.

Orchard Road, Singapore's retail heart, was fairly quiet when The Business Times visited around lunchtime on Friday. There was not much fanfare at Orchard Cineleisure, a mall popular among the youths, and it was similarly hushed at Ion Orchard.

However, some retailers in Ion Orchard, such as Sephora, Zara and Louis Vuitton, had queues of shoppers waiting patiently to enter the stores.

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In the late afternoon, crowds began to form at Orchard MRT station, where there were clear demarcations to usher visitors to Wisma Atria and Ion Orchard.

Social distancing was temporarily forgotten as shoppers crowded around to scan the Quick Response or QR codes for contact tracing on their smartphones, and mall staff and ambassadors had to step in to remedy the situation.

With more shoppers expected to hit Orchard Road this weekend, driven by a combination of pent-up demand and it being Father's Day weekend, retail staff and ambassadors could have their work cut out to keep the situation under control.

Alex Tay, group business director for Nike Singapore and Malaysia at SUTL Sports Retailing, predicts more promotions and discounts drawing shoppers to malls in the coming days too, as retailers will need to clear their seasonal goods to make way for fresh stock.

Jewel Changi was quiet, with no queues at the popular Shake Shack fast food restaurant. Mr Tay said that he expects the Nike store at Jewel to be one of the worst-hit of the eight outlets it operates in Singapore, as the mall is more tourist-focused.

SUTL Sports Retailing delayed the reopening of its stores to Saturday, using the additional day to perform final checks on safe management measures and sanitise the outlets.

Despite the queues at some stores in town, malls and retailers told BT that footfall in the city area in the morning and afternoon was lower than the usual daytime levels for weekdays in the pre-Covid period.

Ngee Ann City recorded 18,216 customers entering the mall between 11am and 2pm, compared with 49,477 for the same time period prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Paragon noted the absence of the usual tourist and office crowds, but said that footfall was more than double the footfall on Fridays during the first phase of reopening.

Department store BHG Singapore saw a 19 per cent decline in footfall at its Bugis outlet compared to levels on April 3, the last Friday before the "circuit breaker". Head of operations Lawrence Teo said that the lower turnout was likely due to most people still working from home and access to the Bugis Junction mall being restricted.

However, its neighbourhood stores saw an average 30 per cent increase in footfall, and overall sales were up 2.2 times by the end of the day. Compared to April 3, twice as many customers made a purchase, and analysis of the full-day performance showed that each customer spent about 4.3 per cent more (see amendment note).

"The strong showing in sales is encouraging, especially when accompanied by positive developments in both the number of customers and average spending," Mr Teo noted. "The positive results across all stores is also a positive sign for our city store in Bugis Junction."

Wing Tai Holdings, which operates 52 stores here (excluding Uniqlo stores), also observed more shoppers at its outlets in suburban malls, compared to those in central areas.

"Traffic in stores dropped around 40 to 50 per cent compared to the same time last year, which was also the Great Singapore Sale period," said Wing Tai Retail executive director Helen Khoo. "However, we see better conversion rates with seven out of 10 customers purchasing one to two pieces."

Electronics and furniture retailer Courts saw sales more than double year-on-year as customers streamed steadily into its stores. Matthew Hoang, group COO of Courts Asia and country CEO of Courts Singapore, said that many customers came in with a clear intention to buy and focused on the items they needed. "This is encouraging as it indicates that Singaporeans are heeding the call to behave responsibly by not spending significant amounts of time browsing," added Mr Hoang.

Ikea Singapore had to convert large areas of its carparks into queuing lanes to manage the steady stream of visitors to its two outlets, but retail director Jaap Doornbos said that the first day was "pleasantly busy" without any big bottlenecks in its queuing system.

A queue formed outside Isetan Scotts before it opened at noon, but a spokesman told BT at 2.30pm that footfall was normal for a non-circuit breaker Friday, and crowd levels at all the Isetan stores were under control. "We have safety measures to control the occupancy capacity, and so far we haven't reached the capacity where we have to stop customers from coming in," he said.

Home goods chain Muji said that footfall at its outlets was about 15 per cent less compared to a pre-circuit breaker Friday, though this could be due to the entry limits in place. Sales were down about 10 per cent from pre-circuit breaker levels, but the number of customers who made a purchase was higher than usual.

Muji announced the closure of its Marina Square branch on Wednesday; it told BT that the lease had expired for the outlet, and management made a business decision to close the store.

Curtain and blinds retailer mc.2 has continued to receive customers on an appointment basis only, with its showroom divided into 15 discussion spaces. The limit on capacity is not an issue for the firm; managing director Wilson Chew noted that mc.2 introduced a virtual consultation service during the circuit breaker, which has helped it shorten the buying process and minimise the number of visits customers have to make to the showroom.

Like SUTL Sports Retailing's Nike stores, the outlets of some other major brands remained closed, with the brands citing the need to ensure customer and staff safety.

Clothing retailer Uniqlo posted on its Facebook page on Thursday that it would not be "rushing to open" on Friday, but would instead conduct a phased reopening over the next week.

Apple said it would reopen its Singapore stores on June 24 with a limit on the number of customers allowed in the store at one time, along with safety measures including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings.

Additional reporting by Deepanraj Ganesan

Amendment note: This article has been updated to reflect full-day figures for certain retailers.

READ MORE: Reopening may slow but not reverse retail decline: economists

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