Why It Matters

GSS looking for a Chinese boost

The Great Singapore Sale (GSS), which started yesterday, is geared at the high-spending Chinese market, in a bid to boost retail sales amid weaker economic sentiment.

Its organiser, the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), has roped in Chinese payments firm UnionPay International as a partner, in place of American company MasterCard, which had been the official GSS card for the past 12 years.

It also extended the sale period to 10 weeks and started the sale a week later than usual so that it covers the bulk of China's summer holidays.

The changes to the annual shopping festival should come as no surprise. Chinese tourists have in recent years been flagged as a bright spot in the lacklustre retail and tourism sectors, both here and abroad. In Japan, they helped premium outlet malls hit record sales last year. In Australia, a surge in Chinese tourists - their numbers overtook those from New Zealand for the first time last September - has prompted a rush to build new hotels around the country.

In Singapore, sales were less than favourable during the Christmas season last year. Excluding motor vehicle sales, retail sales fell 2.1 per cent and 3.6 per cent last November and December respectively, compared with the same period in 2014.

The SRA said it had "engaged in research and consulted widely" before deciding on its focus on the Chinese and wider Asia-Pacific markets.

Tourism and retail are closely linked, especially in the case of the GSS, which was launched by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 1994 as a marketing campaign to promote Singapore as a shopping destination. The SRA, which has about 300 members today, took over as organiser in 1998.

Figures from the STB show that 2.1 million people from China visited Singapore last year, up 22 per cent from 2014's 1.7 million, making it the second top visitor market after Indonesia.

Although their expenditure of $2.54 billion was a 4 per cent dip from the 2014 figure, the Chinese were still the top spenders. Most notably, the proportion they spent on shopping - 45 per cent - was also the highest among the top 10 markets.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'GSS looking for a Chinese boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe