The Singapore Retailers Association declared the yearly shopping festival here a "success" this year, after a rise of 2 to 4 per cent in sales. That wasn't quite "great" but one should be thankful nonetheless after three consecutive years of decline. The modest recovery was attributed partly to a mobile shopping app, GoSpree - an effort of the association to remake the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) by harnessing technology.
Of course, a commonplace app alone will not bring back the glory days of the GSS. Retailers will have to push the boundaries a lot harder and faster to stay on top of the game, as tech-savvy millennials are already getting their fill of online shopping. Critics of Singapore malls declare that they are "one click away from irrelevance", as competition mounts from the likes of Amazon, and fintech reduces the physical presence of banks and finance companies across the island.
The sector is not immune from disruption, of course, but physical retail space is valuable even for Internet giants such as Amazon and Google that are out to create something unique and has mass appeal. The former, for example, is using "just walk out" technology to allow customers to step into an Amazon Go store, pick up items and leave without using a checkout counter. This "retail magic", as some call it, is achieved by combining smartphone technology, machine learning, multiple sensors, image recognition, integrated payment and artificial intelligence.
The larger point is that reinventing retail shopping has to go beyond an app and discounts. There must be far greater collaboration to shape a shoppers' paradise that sets much store by social, tactile and immersive experiences. If the rabbit hole to a new shopping wonderland is unique, has local colour and cleverly taps a range of new technologies, the GSS will prove to be a seductive experience that is not easily replicable elsewhere.