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  • Irni Hadee

Is Singapore really a great retail destination?

What's the matter with Singapore retail?

A recent Straits Times article reviewed Singapore's performance as a great retail destination. They pointed out that what made Singapore a great retail destination in the past may not still be true today.

Too reliant on international brands

They stated that Singapore used to be one of the only place that had a full-house of international brands. But now many other Asian cities - including Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Jakarta can offer the same brands to their local customers. So, if all Singapore can be is a collection of global brands they will lose out.

The malls are too much alike

Also, they say that Singapore malls offer similar types of stores - so if you've seen one mall you have seen it all. The reason for this, they suggest, is that landlords try to maximize walk-ins by offering 'something for everyone.' What you end up getting is the same experience at every mall.

Productivity is lower than other countries

But probably the most concerning thing they point out is that productivity is 35 per cent less in Singapore than for same-sized retailer in Hong Kong.

Part of the reason for this is because Singapore does not have suburban areas. This means that the rents are similar island-wide which makes it hard for retailers to increase their margins at different locations and invest overall in their stores.

What are the problem areas?

So, there is probably little that can be done by us personally to increase the diversity of brands or even changing the types of stores in the malls. Those are long-term issues which need to be dealt with at a higher level - and the Straits Times makes some helpful suggestions here.

But what we can change, ourselves, is to increase the productivity so that Singapore can shine as a great regional shopping destination.

In my previous post, I talked a bit about why retail has high turnover and this has a lot to do with productivity as well.

No clear incentives

For example, the lack of clear incentives for front-line employees can make them work with less enthusiasm and provide worse customer service. Little jobs become all-day tasks and, as a result, the productivity declines.

Lack of employee buy-in

Also, if employees are not encouraged to contribute to how things work within the store, this leads to a bad work environment where there is lack of buy-in among employees. This hurts morale and lowers productivity. If you think of the difference between the best stores in Singapore and the worst (I won't name names, but you know who I mean!), it is about whether the shop is tidy and 'works' - or whether it's a mess and it is difficult to find and purchase items.

Hiring the wrong staff

But probably the biggest hit to productivity is when stores hire the wrong staff. This makes stores worse in two ways. First off, the staff perform poorly with customers and make shopping at the store frustrating and difficult. But bad employees also hurt the performance of good employees.

If an assistant store manager doesn't care if stock is lying around in the wrong place - then surely the shop assistant won't either. So managers and team leaders should be very careful of the people they bring into their store - it could be hazardous to your business!

So what can we do?

By focusing on what it takes to make our retail stores efficient, tidy and even fun places can make a big difference not just for the stores themselves but for Singapore retail as a whole. A pleasant shopping experience will keep both locals and foreigners happy with what Singapore has to offer - and even shop more!

We may not be able to change the proportion of brands on Orchard Road or that malls in Jurong, Tampines, and Woodlands all resemble each other - but we can make a difference in how we motive, include, and hire our employees.

And offering high-quality service with highly motivated and productive employees will make a significant difference in how we are perceived as a great regional - and global - retail destination.

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