It’s only fitting during the holiday season – the peak time for retail – to reflect on the role of recreational shopping in Singapore. It’s an understatement to say that people in Singapore like shopping, much as it would be to say that Canadians like hockey. Often referred to as Singapore’s national pastime, nine out of ten claim to go shopping as a form of entertainment, according to a Nielsen report.
Although shopping centres are abundant throughout the city, Singapore’s best-known destination is Orchard Road, lined with lavish malls and luxury retailers. The exteriors are architectural feats; the interiors are dazzling mazes like that of ION Orchard, which describes itself as Singapore’s “first multi-sensory experiential shopping and lifestyle mall.” Representing what I can only imagine to be the very latest in mall design psychology, the shopper is drawn through winding paths of stores, lights, video screens, and escalators; once inside, finding an easy exit is a challenge.
The shopping experience in Singapore caters equally to tourists and locals. Tourists are encouraged at every mall to maximize their spend during their short visit in exchange for gifts and other incentives; locals are plied with loyalty programs. Through June and July, the city is festooned with promotions for the Great Singapore Sale, an annual, citywide shopping event. The rest of the year, there is a dizzying cycle of deals, promotions and special shopping events. This eventually leads up to a pre-Christmas shopping extravaganza when malls bring out the holiday decorations, with frost, reindeers and elves in stark contrast to the 31° C weather.
Credit card issuers, important stakeholders in driving the shopping economy, face a particularly competitive environment. Singapore cardholders own the most number of credit cards across Asia, with an average of 3.3 cards per individual, according to an HSBC survey. Multiple card ownership is encouraged at the retail level, with incentives for consumer who apply for more than one card at a time. Switching between cards is further spurred by complex reward systems that grant points based on category of spend. This is in addition to the barrage of time-limited special offers from credit card issuers received by mail, email and SMS – all multiplied, of course, by the number of cards owned.
Whatever the season, Singapore is a wonderland for the dedicated recreational shopper. For the spectator, it’s an interesting study in what a truly sophisticated consumer culture looks like.