Hop on to the Pokemon bus

The Pokemon Go craze has spun off a thriving cottage industry in Singapore.

Power banks are flying off the shelves. Transport companies are offering new services to ferry players from place to place to catch all the virtual creatures.

Businesses are trying to get players to come to their stores by releasing lures.

In Pokemon-speak, lures attract Pokemon to a PokeStop for 30 minutes. They can be obtained when players reach a higher level and can also be bought using in-game currency.

Malls, retailers, eateries, resorts and even an onsen and a dentist are buying lures to attract Pokemon, which in turn attract customers.

 

Dentist Darrin Cho, 43, has been releasing lures every day at a location 10m away from his clinic at The Rail Mall in Upper Bukit Timah since Monday.

 

He says: "I am not trying to attract footfall like the malls. I am just trying to make the wait at my clinic more bearable and pleasant for my patients."

The response so far has been good, he adds. "Many patients say they enjoy catching the Pokemon while waiting to see me."

Yunomori Onsen and Spa at Kallang Wave Mall has also been releasing lures, with its spokesman saying this is a "good branding and awareness platform" for visitors to know about the onsen, which is located in a quiet corner of the mall.

Lures have also been released at the newly opened Soi 51 Mookata stall in a coffee shop at Boon Lay Place, which serves Thai barbecue steamboat buffet.

Mr Derrick Wong, 35, executive director of Soi 51 Holdings, which runs another two stalls in Geylang and Yishun, was responding to requests from diners.

With the lures, he says, "customers can take their time to eat the buffet while playing Pokemon Go".

Events assistant Lee Yew Joe, 24, for example, has been eating at the stall every night with his friends since the lures were released.

He says: "I usually eat at home. But since the game's release, I have been eating out every day. I like that the boss here actually encourages us to play by putting lures all night and letting us dine here until 3am."

Other businesses that have released lures include Resorts World Sentosa, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Ion Orchard and City Square Mall, as well as Singapore telcos Singtel, StarHub and M1.

Mr Bernard Ang, head of youth segment at StarHub, says: "Deploying lures is a fun way for us to show we are hospitable. Trainers can also rest their tired feet and use the available phone-charging points at our shops."

Assistant professor of marketing Hannah Chang, 35, from Singapore Management University, whose research interests include consumer behaviour, says capitalising on the Pokemon Go craze allows businesses to attract potential consumers and build brand awareness.

She adds: "But it is up to businesses to turn the human traffic into paying customers."

Adjunct associate professor Lynda Wee, 52, from the Nanyang Business School, who lectures in retail management, says retailers selling products such as food, drinks and power banks are most likely to benefit as these cater to Pokemon Go players on the go.

Indeed, sales of power banks at IT retail chain Challenger Technologies have more than doubled, compared with the same month last year. Sales of power banks at mobile marketplace Shopee have also tripled since the game's release.

Pokemon Go-related transport services, launched earlier this week, are also seeing customers.

A Pokemon Go drivers service launched by ServisHero, a mobile app for finding services in Singapore such as cleaners and plumbers, for example, has completed more than 100 Pokemon journeys.

Most customers use the service - which costs $25 to $40 an hour for a car with a driver - for one or two hours. ServisHero's country manager for Singapore, Mr Daniel Thong, 28, says: "The demand has been very encouraging. In Singapore, the weather is often hot and may not be ideal for long periods of walking. Catching Pokemon in the comfort of a car may be a more enjoyable experience."

One of the drivers, Mr David Loh, 40, who has driven eight groups of Pokemon Go players, says: "The challenge is to stay safe at all times because I get sudden requests to stop or slow down, which is hard to do if you are in the middle of traffic."

Transport company GTS Express also introduced a service last Friday, which drives customers in a 13- seater mini-bus three times along a 10-minute route in Hougang lined with more than 20 PokeStops. The service starts and ends at Block 401 Hougang Avenue 10, reportedly a hot spot for rare Pokemon.

At least eight people signed up for the service on Friday, which costs $4 a person and includes a bottle of mineral water.

Mr Shane Wee, 26, a technical analyst at a consulting firm, gives the bus service the thumbs up. "I can collect Poke Balls in air-conditioned comfort instead of walking from PokeStop to PokeStop."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Hop on to the Pokemon bus'. Print Edition | Subscribe