The weaker ring of the cash register during the nation's annual shopping festival is a matter of concern. Three consecutive years of decline in retail sales during the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) suggest there's more to it than just a cyclical downturn linked to the current global economic slowdown. It has been a centrepiece of the retail scene since it was launched by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1994 to market the city as a shop-till-you-drop destination. Over the years, the GSS has survived the Asian economic crisis of the concluding years of the last century and the global contagion in the first decade of this one. Is its resilience flagging now?
The tourism board and the sale's organiser, the Singapore Retailers Association, should do whatever it takes to rejuvenate the event, as shopping is an integral part of travel and contemporary culture. First, they could start by acknowledging that marketing Singapore to the region and the rest of the world is a process that needs to be constantly updated. Next, one must have a good feel for the spirit of the times, aspirations of a growing middle class and changing tastes of seasoned travellers.
Discounts are appealing but if retailers bank excessively on these, it could lead to a race to the bottom. In any case, the year sees many sales associated with the life cycle of business: opening, renovation, anniversary, clearance, and closing-down. The calendar adds to these in the lead-up to New Year (more than one in Singapore), and the festivals of various communities. Roles are also celebrated: mother, father, partner and so on. These unending local sales and the annual sales of other cities in the region dilute the unique selling point of the GSS. Merely competing on price is a losing game, unless one can always be the lowest-cost producer. The strategy is useful for breaking into new markets, overtaking complacent competitors, and gaining market share. But if the cheapest deals cannot be maintained, the GSS ought to be reconceptualised.
With the focus on experiential shopping, the GSS could be turned into a Great Singapore Treat - with an emphasis on unique and quality experiences that include and go beyond shopping. It could become a signature event if the city succeeds in becoming a destination for pampering oneself and special people. That would mean adding art and mastery to high tech and efficiency to create an unmatchable experience. There is no shortage of ideas: Dovetail it with the Formula 1 race. Accept foreign currencies at special rates. Match sleek digital platforms with creative stores. Connect retailers so one can, say, dress up from head to toe with bundled discounts. By pulling out all the stops, the Dubai Shopping Festival is said to earn retailers about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of their annual sales. Singapore is capable of creating surprising and iconic experiences too.