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FOR those thinking that it's been "mall of the same" for a while now, it's time to peel themselves away from online stores and hit the real shops this Great Singapore Sale. Retail meccas are revamping themselves with fresh brands, new extensions and innovative concepts - generally targeted at the accessible luxury segment.
In the past month, several malls have introduced whole new levels just in time for the annual shopping extravaganza, expanded their existing space, or infused their line-up of stores with new-to-market brands. Orchard Road institution Takashimaya SC, for one, has unveiled a slew of fashion and lifestyle boutiques on its third level - which was home to bookstore Kinokuniya for the past 15 years. The Japanese retailer moved into a 33,000 sq ft space a floor up. Now, the third floor has been unveiled with interesting concept stores offering handmade espadrilles from Spain (Castaner), luxury enamel jewellery (Freywille), contemporary, playful fashion (RedValentino), authentic French madeleines (La Cure Gourmande), and even speciality alteration and leather restoration services from Japan (Big Mama).
"Offering affordable luxury, the new level fills the gap between the 'masstige' brands at the basement level and the high-end international luxury brands on the first level," says Elaine Chew, general manager of Shopping Centre Management for Toshin Development Singapore, which manages Takashimaya's shopping centre operations.
A total of 18 new brands are available on the new level, some of which are new to Singapore. Castaner, for example, has been brought in by veteran fashion group Bluebell just in time to meet the current trend of summery, jute-soled espadrilles.
"There's definitely a growing market for espadrilles, not to mention that espadrilles are perfectly suited for our warm tropical climate," says Nelly Ngadiman, general manger of Bluebell. "Naturally, we wanted to represent the best espadrilles-makers in the business."
Ms Ngadiman adds that the group picked Takashimaya SC for the brand's first store because of the range of established shoe brands available at the mall such as Christian Louboutin and Roger Vivier, as well as the new floor's mix of retailers.
"It's a retail destination for serious shoe shoppers and that's the type of synergistic environment we want to be in," adds Ms Ngadiman. "Level three is marketed as an 'affordable luxury' floor that matches the positioning of the brand."
Says Joanna Lee, head of retail management, Mapletree Commercial Property Management: "We are optimistic about the shoppers' responses towards VivoCity's new basement one retail space, which boasts a cohort of coveted brands. It will take advantage of a constant stream of shopper traffic due to its location at the main thoroughfare that connects HarbourFront MRT Station to the main shopping areas in the mall as well as the Sentosa Express Station. The addition will create a seamless shopping experience for our customers across all levels of the mall."
For tenants, finding the sweet spot of location, positioning and traffic is crucial for survival. In the case of new multi-brand lifestyle store Weekends, choosing the right home is all the more essential since it is introducing its concept - and collection of brands from Europe and the US - to shoppers here for the first time.
"VivoCity is one of the few shopping malls in Singapore that draws a good, diverse crowd of both local shoppers and tourists," says Benny Low, managing director of Trendspot, the parent company of Weekends. "In addition, B1 has the highest shopper traffic every day since the escalator is directly linked to Harbourfront MRT. The new basement has got a good mix of international brands with a 'light-hearted' nature - something that caters well to the fast moving crowd."
The Harbourfront mall has unveiled nine new stores in a new basement retail space, which occupies a former carpark area. Apart from Weekends, the 15,000 sq ft floor will also feature another new brand, US casualwear label American Eagle Outfitters; and beauty brands Etude House, Innisfree and Lab Series.
"To make business sense operating within a high rental environment, we focused on the location and not the size of the store," adds Mr Low. "A smaller store at a good location improves your probability to succeed much better than a large store situated far from target shoppers. In Singapore's competitive and challenging retail climate, it's wise to stay small and agile. It gives us the flexibility to steer our sail to the direction of the (retail) wind."
And brands with mass appeal aren't the only ones making an impact in high profile malls. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands has also undergone a retail remix that saw the entrance and exit of several boutiques over the past three years. The high-end retail destination now boasts 15 duplexes and even triplexes - occupied by designer heavyweights such as Prada, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci. With traffic relatively slow compared to more centrally located shopping spots, smaller tenants such as French brand Zadig & Voltaire, multi-label boutique Society of Black Sheep and homegrown label Raoul have all left since the mall opened in 2010.
"Today, we are proud to offer our shoppers an experience that is unmatched in the region - from a comprehensive variety of luxury brands, bespoke services and limited edition items that can only be found right here at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands," says John Postle, vice-president of retail at Marina Bay Sands.
Facing stiff competition from convenient online shopping portals offering variety and value, malls are cementing their statuses as unique destinations and not just another run-of-the-mill collective of stores, helmed by folks who happen to be able to afford rent.
"We recognise the tough challenges we are facing in this omnipresent, multichannel online shopping world," says Mr Low. "At Weekends, we hope to rekindle the emotions of shopping among other consumers and make it more than just a transaction."