Mass-market clothes can still be good buys in Singapore

The EIU survey found that Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to buy clothes, but its focus was on high-end stores. For high-street brands such as H&M (above) that are popular here, local shoppers seem to be getting a better deal on so
The EIU survey found that Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to buy clothes, but its focus was on high-end stores. For high-street brands such as H&M (above) that are popular here, local shoppers seem to be getting a better deal on some items than shoppers overseas.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

High-end items may be pricier here, but shoppers can still find bargains

A recent survey found that Singapore is the world's priciest place to buy clothes but it failed to note that some items from mass-market brands are actually cheaper here than elsewhere.

The study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) focused on expatriates and assumed that they shopped at high-end stores.

And while the finding that high-end shopping costs more here than elsewhere seems valid, most local shoppers do not venture that far upmarket.

High-street brands such as Uniqlo from Japan and H&M from Sweden are popular and, for at least some items, shoppers here seem to be getting a better deal than shoppers overseas.

Take a pair of Uniqlo women's ultra stretch jeans - one of the brand's best-sellers. It costs $59.90 here - more expensive than in New York, where it costs US$39.90 (S$51), but cheaper than in Paris (€39.90 or S$70).

And a women's basic jersey top from H&M is $7.90 in Singapore, about 7 per cent higher than in Tokyo but about 10 to 12 per cent lower than in Paris and New York.

Mr Jon Copestake, the editor of the EIU survey, said: "Asian consumers tend to be particularly receptive to aspirational Western and luxury clothing brands. This allows many firms to apply a price premium to goods in some Asian markets.

"The premium sometimes added by Western brands is also justified as a means of covering overheads associated with the high cost of setting up shop so far from the domestic markets of brands in Europe and America."

One item used for comparison in the EIU survey was a women's summer dress. The average price was found to be US$565.62 in Singapore, compared with US$416.67 in Paris, which was second overall in the rankings of the world's priciest cities.

Retail expert Sarah Lim, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's business school, feels that comparing the prices of specific clothing items against one another is not a fair indication of how expensive it is to shop here. "Even within one brand, certain items may be more or less expensive here than in other countries."

Many of the brands commonly found in local shopping malls - including Mango, Zara and Gap - are managed by distributors such as the Jay Gee Melwani Group, FJ Benjamin and RSH Limited.

These firms declined to comment on their pricing strategies, but a check online showed that a Zara babydoll dress is the priciest here with its $109 retail tag, compared against four other markets - Britain, Hong Kong, Canada and Japan - where the dress costs less than $100.

Prices of global high-street brands generally tend to differ by about 10 per cent across different countries, say retail experts.

Ms Lynda Wee, an adjunct associate professor specialising in retail management at Nanyang Technological University, said: "Global brands have policies to keep prices consistent and maintain their image. Marking down the prices too low in one country could cannibalise sales in another."

But price margins for luxury brands can be a lot higher, said Mr Samuel Tan, the course manager for the diploma in retail management at Temasek Polytechnic.

Ms Lim added: "These prices generally tend to vary by about 2 to 5 per cent across countries. It is a smaller percentage than high- street brands, but the quantum price will be a bigger amount."

Some shoppers have noticed that luxury brands tend to be costlier here. Ms Olivia Cain, 25, who works in digital marketing, tends to buy luxury bags online or abroad instead of in local stores. "It can sometimes be up to 25 per cent cheaper online or in the United States and Europe. Whenever I visit Europe, I go shopping and fill my suitcase up with... womenswear staples and designer stuff."

cherylw@sph.com.sg

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