Spotlight on Singapore's retail landscape: 6 surprising ways to shop in the future

With Singapore's retail market facing a challenging period amid an economic slowdown and declining sales, the spotlight has fallen on the emerging trends that can shape Singapore's future shopping malls.

New technologies are vastly transforming the shopping experience, and bricks-and-mortar retailers will have to raise their game to woo customers back.

Here's a look at six amazing ways to shop in the future.

1. Don a headset, shop anywhere in the world from home


A visitor uses an augmented reality headset during the Laval Virtual virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D techonology show on March 22, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Virtual reality (VR) engages the shopper in a simulated world, while augmented reality (AR) makes virtual objects appear as though they are in the real world.

China's e-commerce giant Alibaba has been a pioneer of the VR and AR experience - for instance, US merchant Macy's partnered with Alibaba in November last year to sell affordable headsets that allow shoppers to shop virtually at the former's New York flagship store.

2. I, Robot, you shopper. You choose, I deliver


Mechanical engineering student Daniel Tang, in a San Jose hardware store with a robot that greets and directs shoppers to products. PHOTO: NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE

Robotic technology could be the answer to ease Singapore's manpower crunch and boost productivity.

Retailers could use customer-facing robots, designed to find products among the stockpile and deliver them to customers, so front-line retail employees can spend more time on customer interaction.

3. Contactless payments: Pay for your purchases with a nod of your head

With payment systems evolving with time, Singapore has become one of the leading markets in the world for contactless payments, with more than four million Visa payWave transactions in a month.

In China, Alibaba has even pioneered a VR payment system that works by the recognition of a shopper nodding his head.

4. E-commerce mega showrooms: touch and see first, then buy


Reebonz co-founders Daniel Lim (right) and Benjamin Han (left). Reebonz is a Singapore-founded luxury e-commerce company that pioneered the buying and selling of luxury products online. PHOTO: ST FILE

It would not be a surprise to see e-commerce showrooms potentially take over the department stores of today - for instance, Amazon's physical store allows shoppers to browse, touch and test a product before buying it online.

Last year, crowdfunding platform Kickstarter entered Singapore's bricks-and-mortar scene. Its latest store at Millennia Walk provides a physical platform to showcase creative and innovative projects, allowing potential investors to preview them.

5. Immersive experiences: from window-shopping to experiential shopping


An AmazonFresh Pickup storefront in Seattle, Washington on March 28, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

The mall of tomorrow will be anchored by food and experience, as they are unlikely to be replace by online options. Concepts like pop-up vendors, food trucks, cooking classes and food delivery to lockers could displace the traditional notion of a food court by evolving as a community gathering place.

New developments here are catching on this trend - OUE's Downtown Gallery mall, due to open next month, has a 4,000 sq ft social kitchen with 10 cooking stations that customers can book online, as well as an auto deli for office workers to order food and pick it up at an assigned locker.

6. Airbnb for shop spaces

Online platforms are now providing new channels for landlords and small merchants to list and rent short-term retail space respectively.

Storefront, for instance, has helped to match more than 1,000 merchants to retail spaces in US, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. The platform offers everything from full retail stores that can be used as pop-up shops to shelf space in boutiques available on a temporary basis. 

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These ideas are from a commentary by Christine Li, director and head of research at real estate consultancy Cushman & Wakefield Singapore.