Retail sales fall for 10th straight month

Experts note data may not include all online spending, which surged in Nov

Sales of apparel and footwear increased 4.3 per cent last November.
Sales of apparel and footwear increased 4.3 per cent last November. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Even huge shopping events like Singles' Day and Black Friday that had consumers shelling out left, right, and centre failed to lift retail sales in Singapore last November - the 10th straight month of decline.

Takings at the till fell 4 per cent compared with the same month in 2018 and largely in line with the 4.1 per cent decline predicted by analysts polled by Bloomberg.

If motor vehicles were excluded, retail sales would have fallen 0.6 per cent year on year, the Statistics Department noted yesterday.

Experts said consumers had shopped more online, which hit sales at brick-and-mortar outlets.

Maybank Kim Eng economist Lee Ju Ye said: "Consumer spending may not be as weak as the retail numbers suggest, given that online purchases on foreign platforms may not be entirely captured in Singapore's data."

But she added that November's numbers were also evidence of the growing disruption of e-commerce on brick-and-mortar shops.

Department store takings fell 8.4 per cent despite promotional events like Black Friday.

"Surging online retail sales, an increase of about 16 per cent from a year ago by our estimates, reflect consumers' shift towards the online platform," Ms Lee said.

United Overseas Bank economist Barnabas Gan said much of the demand was concentrated online: "This benefited cross-border retailers rather than domestic retailers, especially during Singles' Day and Black Friday, which reportedly profited retailers in China, Hong Kong, United States and Malaysia."

Vehicle sales fell 22.4 per cent. The decrease corresponded with the lower certificate of entitlement quota for the November 2019 to January 2020 period, Singstat said.

Furniture and household equipment registered a double-digit fall, down 10.9 per cent.


  • $898m

    Estimated total sales value of food and beverage services last November, up from $851m in November 2018. 

  • $3.6b

    Total retail sales value in November; online turnover comprised an estimated 8 per cent, up from 6.1 per cent the month before.

However, sales of apparel and footwear rose 4.3 per cent. Mini-marts and convenience stores also recorded higher sales at 3 per cent.

Food and beverage services remained strong, up 5.5 per cent compared with the same period in 2018.

All segments registered increases, with takings at fast-food outlets leading the way, by a 12.4 per cent rise. This was followed by restaurants, which lifted sales 6.4 per cent.

The total sales value of food and beverage services in November was estimated at $898 million, compared with $851 million in November 2018.

Total retail sales value in November came in at about $3.6 billion, with online turnover comprising an estimated 8 per cent, up from 6.1 per cent in October last year.

This was due to higher sales from events such as Singles' Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Experts said retail sales are set to improve this year.

Mr Gan said: "With economic growth estimated to recover to 1.5 per cent in 2020, up from our estimate of 0.5 per cent in 2019, the improvement in risk appetite and a rosier economic environment should provide the necessary fillip for retail sales in the year ahead."

Ms Lee added: "A recovery in exports and manufacturing... will also translate into an improving labour market and consumer sentiments.

"Diversion of tourists and (other events) from Hong Kong to Singapore and low base effects for car sales will also provide a boost to headline retail sales, which we expect to recover to low single-digit growth in 2020."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Retail sales fall for 10th straight month'. Subscribe