Sim Lim cleans up act but mall still quiet

Foot traffic down 40 per cent even as complaints against retailers fall

The errant retailers at Sim Lim Square seem to have cleaned up their act, some two months after now-defunct shop Mobile Air made local and global headlines for its unsavoury sales tactics.

Shoppers, however, are still staying away, especially from the shops on the first two floors of the IT and electronics mall in Bugis, where all the dishonest stores were previously found.

"The police do not come here daily any more to deal with disputes and we have not got any complaints about unfair sales tactics since last month," said a spokesman for the mall's management.

Sim Lim Square's reputation took a hit last year after Mobile Air and its owner Jover Chew were exposed for allegedly scamming consumers, including tourists.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has engaged lawyers for the court order against Mobile Air, which is still listed under Mr Chew's name as a live company. Last year, Mr Edmund Lim said he bought over the business and would be reopening it as HJ Mobile.

Of the 10 stores blacklisted last November by Case for a high number of complaints made against them by shoppers, only two are still in business.

Case received a total of 111 complaints against stores in Sim Lim last year, up from 99 in 2013.

While shoppers are gradually returning, after the police raided the former Mobile Air and several dishonest shops shut down, the crowd remains around 40 per cent less than usual throughout the mall, said the management.

"Shops have told us business is slow, though human traffic seems to be returning to normal from the third floor onwards," it said.

Stores on the first two levels of the mall reported sales falling by up to 90 per cent over the last two months. A mobile phone store said it saw the worst takings in a decade over the festive period, making losses when profits typically rise during that time.

The owner of a one-year-old mobile phone shop on the first floor said sales were 80 per cent lower for the first few weeks of this year compared with the same period last year. He declined to be named but said he would be closing his business for good soon, as the mall has become too quiet.

There are 162 shops on the first two floors and 12 are currently vacant. At least five of them closed in the last two months.

At some stores, however, things are beginning to look up.

J2 Trading & Business, for example, saw sales rise slightly over the last month. The smartphone and media box company has four outlets. It was "most terrible" last November and the company made losses, said Mr Leo Lee, 24, who runs one of its outlets, on the second floor.

But by last month, it was at least able to make enough to cover costs by depending on regulars.

"Sales have been fluctuating. Some days, it is very high and some days, there are no sales at all. People still do not trust this place," said Mr Lee.

The bad publicity has not deterred at least one business from setting up shop at the mall.

Musical instrument and audio equipment firm Swee Lee opened a showroom for professional audio equipment last November. The company chose the mall as it is known among shoppers of audio and visual equipment.

Said a Swee Lee spokesman: "The negative publicity had an impact on us... But we still had customers who knew our brand, including tourists."

For consumers, it is all about knowing which shops to patronise and which to avoid.

Said trainee lawyer Joey Lim, 25: "Those in the know will avoid the shops on the lower levels in general. Buying consumer electronics there is a no-no as well.

"However, it is a haven for computer parts and peripherals."

cherylw@sph.com.sg