The Great Singapore Sale (GSS), now under way, is an annual preoccupation that deserves wider attention as retail, together with wholesale trade, is the second-biggest contributor by industry to the nation's gross domestic product. Being a top employer, the sector's growth trend ought to be a matter of general concern. Its share of GDP had been on the rise from the start of the new millennium. This peaked in 2011 and has been sliding ever since on a year-to-year basis.
Thus, priming the GSS assumes some importance. As most shopping festivals tout cheap buys, should the emphasis on a "great sale" give way to a focus on great experiences? The promoted promise that "your wallet will thank you" for seizing discounts "up to 70 per cent" will not be realised in every case, and low-cost regional competitors might play the cut-price game better. However, if the "deals and steals" are combined with ambience that wows and high-touch service that is matchless, shoppers (not just their pocketbooks) will thank Singapore for the overall experience.
One way of delivering this could be via a festival cast as a season of pampering oneself and those special, in an unmistakably Singapore style. If the nation is mobilised for this effort, one might see creative offerings across a range of areas and mastery on display in even unexpected places. Verve and vigour in shaping experiences, not just the practice of discounting, will be needed to distinguish GSS from what Dubai and Hong Kong offer.
Experiential purchases are more likely to attract the region's burgeoning middle class, when the pursuit of happiness vies for importance alongside a craving for material things. For many, the former might count more than the latter, as a Cornell psychology professor noted. Unlike the price tags of goods, the experiences of shoppers are special to them and not compared with those of others in order to measure the value gained.