New retail experience: Boutiques offer food, free Wi-Fi to stand out

Boutiques now offer food, drinks, free Wi-Fi and a place to hang out within their store space to distinguish from online retailers

Since opening a cafe at its flagship store in Paragon two months ago, Japanese retailer Muji has seen a 40 per cent increase in sales at the outlet compared with the same period last year.

Ms Jasmine Sng, 45, general manager of Muji (Singapore), says: “Customer traffic has increased. The cafe draws customers to the store and, after a meal, they usually shop at the retail section too.”

The Japanese lifestyle brand is just one of a growing number of stores here adding food and beverage concepts to their retail space to enhance the shopping experience and offer more than just products for sale.

Retailers and retail analysts say this is a good way for stores to distinguish themselves in an overcrowded retail market and to offer shoppers an experience that they cannot get online.

These stores are... feeding our hunger and providing a space to bond with friends and family.

MS LYNDA WEE, adjunct associate professor at the Nanyang Business School, on shops offering multi-faceted experiences

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says: “It makes a lot of sense to have a cafe in the store as it prolongs the shopping period of a customer within the store, which they otherwise might have left if they got hungry or thirsty.

“It is also a major way of distinguishing overall retail offerings from online retailers. Brick-and-mortar stores can provide a service, such as a cafe, which online stores are unable to do.”

Account manager Diana Low, 35, who visits a Muji outlet at least once every two weeks, says Cafe&Meal has created a better shopping experience at Muji.

“It completes the lifestyle concept of Muji and makes me want to linger longer in the store and spend more,” she says.

Other stores which have caught on to this global trend recently include home-grown womenswear brand In Good Company at Ion Orchard, luxury multi-label store Pedder On Scotts at Scotts Square, Singapore designer collective W.E.+ at Suntec City and multilabel boutique Kapokatthe National Design Centre.

Multi-concept shop Gallery & Co at the newly opened National Gallery Singapore is taking the idea further by including regular pop-up exhibitions and workshops within its 8,800 sq ft space. A Christmas shopping event on Dec 18 and 19, from 7pm to midnight, will feature two DJs spinning music to add to the party atmosphere. A cafe, which will serve cakes, snacks and coffee, and a cafeteria, with modern South-east Asian cuisine, will open at the retail space next month.

The concept of including food and more within a retail space is not new in Singapore.

Fashion and retail group Project Shop, which owns PS. Cafe, opened its first in-store cafe in Paragon in 1999, under the PSGourmet group. It has since gone into F&B in a big way, more so than its retail business, with four PS. Cafe outlets, two Chopsuey Cafe outlets serving Asian fare and two gourmet takeaway PS. Cafe Petit outlets. Of these, only PS. Cafe at Paragon is part of a retail space. PSGourmet did not reply to questions from Life.

Pact at Orchard Central started in 2012 with three businesses under one roof – restaurant Kilo, hair salon Kizuki+Lim and home-grown men’s clothing brand Sifr. It has since doubled in size to a 7,500 sq ft emporiumwith five other businesses – perfumery Code Deco, furniture brand Fred Lives Here, jewellery brand Killari, homeware brand Hauswerks and nail salon Kiyone+Lim. The retailer offers shoppers free Wi-Fi – another incentive to get them to hang around a bit longer. Gallery & Co and W.E. cafe offer free Wi-Fi as well.

Counsellor Ang Xin Ying, 27, who has been to Pact, says she likes its open ambience and various concepts within one space. “I went to eat at Kilo and it was great to be able to walk around the other stores afterwards just to browse.”

Mr Javier Perez, 37, founder of Kilo, says the idea for such a multifaceted retail space came about organically. “We weren’t even sure if it would work – food, clothes and hair – but the dynamic was really good.”

He and his partners also drew inspiration from concept stores overseas such as Thai fashion label Greyhound, which has its own cafes in Bangkok.

Muji introduced its Cafe&Meal cafe here to add to its customers’ shopping experience as well. The 52-seat cafe takes up about 1,300 sq ft of the 8,500 sq ft flagship store and serves a fusion of Japanese and Singaporean cuisines.

With the success of its first cafe, Ms Sng says the company plans to open another Cafe&Meal outlet in the second half of next year, but declines to give further details.

Mr Sven Tan, co-founder and co-designer of home-grown womenswear label In Good Company, says it makes sense to offer more than fashion at its first 3,300 sq ft standalone boutique, which opened at Ion Orchard in August. The store houses an 800 sq ft cafe, a collaboration with Plain Vanilla Bakery, that serves cupcakes, ice cream, coffee, salads and sandwiches.

He says: “As our name suggests, In Good Company is about the gathering of ideas and collaborations with like-minded creative partners. This lifestyle and community approach is a huge part of our brand ethos.

“The cafe also creates a harmonious community space for customers to shop and share a bite together. It enhances the lifestyle concept of the flagship – the draw of looking good, living and eating well.”

Aside from food, home-grown fiction from Math Paper Press, magazine titles from international and indie magazine retailer Magpie and a range of non-fashion items, such as artisanal perfumes and leather goods, are also carried at the store to complete the lifestyle experience.

Mr Tan, 35, says sales have been “encouraging” with many customers visiting the cafe after shopping at the store and vice versa.

“If anything, the cafe also serves as a spot for bored better-halves who might pick up a book or a magazine to read over coffee,” he adds.

Next month, a 3,000 sq ft cafe run by award-winning speciality coffee brand The Coffee Academics from Hong Kong will open at Pedder On Scotts. The 70-seat flagship cafe will serve coffee and brunch fare. It will also feature a custom blend bar, coffee concierge and a training area with two cupping tables for coffee appreciation classes and Q&A sessions.

A spokesman for the luxury multi-label shoe and accessories retailer says: “The idea is that customers are able to take a break from their shopping to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee or a bite to eat. Customers will also be able to experience blending their own coffee and explore the different ways to brew coffee.”

Likewise, designer Alfie Leong, 45, who is the founder of local multi-label collective Workshop Element, hopes that having an East-meets-West eatery at W.E.+ will “create an all-rounded experience for customers”. W.E.+, an extension of Workshop Element, opened in September in Suntec City.

Mr Leong says he chose chef Steven Koh, 36, who previously worked at The 1925 Microbrewery & Restaurant, to helm W.E. cafe because the chef is not afraid to experiment, which Mr Leong says is similar to the way that Singapore designers work. Dishes served include spaghetti with pork belly in satay sauce and in-house-made gelato and waffles.

Retail analysts say that retailers offering multi-faceted experiences are on the right track.

Ms Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor at the Nanyang Business School, says: “These stores are meeting our physiological and social needs – feeding our hunger and providing a space to bond with friends and family. And staying at the cafe keeps customers on-site, which could lead to more buying.”

But finding the right partner to work with is essential.

Associate Professor Sharon Ng of the Nanyang Technological University’s business school points out that ideally, the cafe or restaurant should match the retailers’ brand image. “Augmenting consumers’ experience works only if the F&B experience is also good. If they provide a bad experience, the whole concept might backfire,” she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe