GSS shoppers spent $2b using MasterCard this year

Amount is highest in five years despite falling tourist numbers, says credit card company

Despite slowing tourism growth and competition from online re- tailers, shoppers shelled out a five-year high of $2.12 billion using their MasterCard cards at the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) this year.

The amount spent during the eight-week event, held from May 30 to July 26, was a 2.2 per cent increase from last year, the credit card company said on Monday.

The number of transactions made during the sale between its cardholders and Singapore merchants also rose by 7.3 per cent to hit more than 14.5 million.

The growth was fuelled mainly by tourists, who spent 15.3 per cent more and used their cards 21.8 per cent more than they did last year.

This was despite falling tourist numbers. According to Singapore Tourism Board figures, visitor arrivals from January to June this year were 7.26 million, down 3.4 per cent from the same period last year.

In contrast, Singapore-based cardholders spent slightly less than they did last year - $1.41 billion, down from last year's $1.46 billion - although transaction numbers grew 2.6 per cent to 10.5 million.

Nonetheless, these cardholders made up two-thirds of the amount spent in all by MasterCard users.

Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim said the sale, now in its 22nd year, may have lost its shine among Singaporeans.

"Some retailers hold sales throughout the year. So to locals, GSS may not be something special," she said. "But to tourists, the GSS is quite established and is something they look forward to, so their objective is to spend when they are here."

The top five countries where most of the shoppers came from remained the same as those last year. Australia, Malaysia and China retained the top three positions, while Indonesia overtook Japan to take the fourth spot.

Of the five, those from Indonesia spent the most at department stores, while the rest splurged at restaurants and eating places.

Local online merchants were not left out, with Singapore-based cardholders spending $303.5 million online during the sales period, a 5.6 per cent increase from last year.

Rakuten, which held a one-week sales campaign during the GSS, saw revenue rise by over 350 per cent, while site traffic was up by nearly 90 per cent. "Rakuten is definitely keen to participate in next year's Great Singapore Sale," said Mr Masaya Ueno, general manager of Rakuten Singapore online shopping.

The growth in spending shows that the annual GSS remains attractive to tourists, said MasterCard Singapore group head and general manager Deborah Heng, adding: "What's interesting is that, this year, we are seeing dining places emerge consistently as a top spend category for visitors, an indication that fine dining may be growing in appeal for travellers to Singapore."

Said Ms Jannie Chan, president of the Singapore Retailers Association, which organises the GSS: "With its well-established branding, the GSS has remained an essential pillar in driving spending and generating a positive impact on our economy."

Filipino accountant Charmaine Garcia, 37, who visits Singapore twice a year, said she looks forward to the GSS for its good deals. "I like to shop for shoes, clothes and bags and, during the sale, there are discounts not just on the old stock, but on the newer range of items, too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'GSS shoppers spent $2b using MasterCard this year'. Print Edition | Subscribe