Some retailers expanding even as others exit Singapore amid Covid-19 crisis

At a time when others are closing their outlets, Ikea has expanded its footprint here with a third outlet, in Jem. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Some retailers are expanding their presence in Singapore even as others make their exit amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Consumers' changing needs as more people work and study from home have given opportunities to retailers who cater to them.

For instance, more people have taken an interest in home furnishing, said furniture chain Ikea's retail director for Singapore and the Philippines, Mr Jaap Doornbos.

"As Singaporeans spend more time at home, they relook their sofa and decide to renew it, or look at their kitchen and plan for an overhaul. In the last 12 months, Ikea has seen strong sales specifically in work-from-home solutions, tableware, kitchenware and outdoor furniture."

At a time when others are closing their outlets, Ikea has expanded its footprint here with a third outlet, in Jem in Jurong East, which has clocked healthy footfalls since its opening in April. The chain's two other outlets are in Alexandra Road and Tampines.

Demand is likely to hold as many workers have taken to working from home, and a growing list of large companies, such as Google and Twitter, are becoming more accepting of remote arrangements.

The exit of retailers such as Robinsons department store chain has also freed up prime space in the heart of Orchard Road.

Electronics and furniture retailer Courts will be taking over in the first quarter of next year all six storeys of The Heeren that were once occupied by Robinsons.

This will be its largest outlet.

The company said expanding its presence in the central area will allow it to earn some tourist dollars in the future as well.

Courts Singapore group and country chief executive Matthew Hoang said the company performed several rounds of studies and analyses before deciding to open the store.

The studies went beyond the projections of returns and looked into how the outlet can serve a bigger purpose in making the retail scene more vibrant, he said.

Courts also believes that the new location will give it an edge in the long term, especially with plans by the Government to revitalise the Orchard Road shopping belt.

Mr Hoang said: "We believe that having a physical presence would benefit our overall strategy, as customers would be able to view and try our products in real life, while also enjoying the convenience of online shopping."

Footwear retailer Skechers made a splash late last year and early this year, opening stores in prime locations such as Wisma Atria, City Square Mall, 313 @ Somerset and Paragon.

Its South-east Asia vice-president, Ms Zann Lee, said it was able to find good store locations which had been freed up as brands exited.

Landlords were more open to negotiations and rental rates have reduced by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent from the listed rates, she said.

She added: "Despite the challenging retail climate, there are still pockets of opportunity that we were able to act upon... Being able to open these new retail outlets allows us to expand our store network, especially in central areas which usually have higher barriers to entry."

Skechers will be in a good position to reach out to more customers when the pandemic improves, Ms Lee said.

With such longer-term goals in mind, the retailers are taking the current tightened restrictions in their stride.

They also expect business to pick up after June 13, when curbs are expected to ease.

"Although we are concerned that the latest heightened alert measures will impact physical store sales and footfall once more, we are hopeful that Skechers will be able to tide over this latest challenging period with our product offerings and safe shopping environment."

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