The Great Singapore Sale (GSS) begins today with a longer sale period of 10 weeks. And to entice Chinese tourists to spend more, there will be perks for shoppers who pay with cards issued by a Chinese payment company.
For the first time, UnionPay International cardholders will get extra discounts and offers at more than 100 merchants during the sale, under a new three-year partnership between the payment network and the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), organiser of the GSS.
The extension of the sale period to 10 weeks - for the last 12 years, the GSS stretched over eight weeks - is to better cater to tourists from Asia-Pacific countries, including China, whose summer holidays fall in the June to August period, said SRA executive director Anthony Gan.
He added that the annual shopping festival, which ends on Aug 14, will still coincide with the school holidays in June and the regional peak travel season in July, as in previous years.
The changes to the shopping festival, now in its 23rd year, come amid weaker economic sentiment and challenging retail conditions such as high vacancy rates in malls, higher operating costs and lower retail revenue.
Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim said while the longer sale period will attract tourists, it may dilute the impact of the sale for locals.
Retailers must have a sufficiently varied assortment of products to last throughout the 10 weeks, she noted. "Otherwise locals will get tired of it and the sale will have no impact," she said.
This year, Chinese payment firm UnionPay International will be the official card of the GSS, in place of MasterCard, which has been the official card for the last 12 years.
Mr Gan said: "UnionPay is able to increase our reach into China, while we in turn will help UnionPay increase their market share locally."
He added: "SRA, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and UnionPay are working together very closely within China to boost tourist arrivals to Singapore, and increase tourist spending here."
The world's largest card issuer, UnionPay has issued more than 5.4 billion cards globally, with close to nine million issued in South-east Asia as at March 31.
In Singapore, almost all ATMs and taxis and more than 80 per cent of merchants accept UnionPay cards. Four banks here issue UnionPay cards - Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, United Overseas Bank and DBS Bank, which launched a debit card with UnionPay last month.
According to STB figures, Chinese visitors spent $2.54 billion here last year, making them the top spenders among Singapore's visitor markets. Nearly half - 45 per cent - of the amount was spent on shopping.
The number of Chinese visitors to Singapore was 2.1 million last year, up 22 per cent from 2014's 1.7 million. This means China tourists are ranked second after Indonesia, in terms of tourist arrivals.
The GSS stretches from Orchard Road to Marina Bay, Sentosa HarbourFront and the heartland. It includes online and physical stores, from fashion and dining to hotels and attractions.
Last year, shoppers shelled out a five-year high of $2.12 billion using their MasterCard cards, with the growth fuelled mainly by tourists.
This year, people who shop at the GSS stand to win a record of more than $200,000, with the SRA giving out $100 each - in the form of a UnionPay prepaid card loaded with the amount - to five shoppers daily. Those who pay with UnionPay cards stand to win another $500.
Shoppers also stand to win more than $320,000 worth of prizes in the Singapore Press Holdings' Shop & Win contest by spending at least $30 in one receipt at any participating outlet. Two cars, a Subaru XV 1.6i-S and Nissan Sylphy 1.8L, are up for grabs.