Orchard Road turns to WeChat to drive sales

Businesses seek Chinese boost with social media account promoting shopping street

A post on Chinese social media platform WeChat touts Orchard Road as a prime spot for a selfie, with its backdrop of high street brands and clean surroundings.

Another post raves about the value of the dishes at seafood restaurant chain Fish & Co, where appetisers cost between $3.90 and $11.90.

The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) set up the WeChat account two months ago to promote the shopping street directly to consumers in China.

"In China, without a WeChat account, it's impossible to communicate with the consumers," said Mr Steven Goh, Orba's executive director.

Like many businesses in Singapore, Orba is looking to the Chinese to provide a boost to the flagging retail and tourism sectors.

The Orchard Road Business Association recently hired a marketing agency in China to come up with twice-weekly posts on its WeChat platform that use the lingo of the mainland Chinese to introduce the brands in Orchard Road. PHOTO: ORCHARD ROAD BUSINESS ASSOCIATION

Competition from online shops and weak consumer sentiments have translated into lower retail sales. Tourism growth is expected to slow to a crawl this year, as tourists tighten their belts ahead of a weakening global economy.

The Chinese, however, offer hope.

Last year, Chinese visitor arrivals grew 22 per cent year-on- year to 2.1 million. Although their expenditure of $2.54 billion was a 4 per cent dip from the 2014 figure, they were still the top spenders among visitors here.

In recent years, Orba has sent teams to different cities in China regularly to promote the street.

Recently, it hired a marketing agency in China to come up with twice-weekly posts on its WeChat platform that introduce - in the lingo of the mainland Chinese - the brands in Orchard Road.

Its efforts complement those of the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), which roped in Chinese payments firm UnionPay International as a partner of its Great Singapore Sale this year.

SRA extended the sale to 10 weeks and started it a week later than usual to coincide with most of China's summer holidays.

Other retailers are also taking the initiative to cater to the Chinese.

Retail shop Taula Jewellery in Clarke Quay widened its range in March to include fashion jewellery and items with prices starting from $29, instead of $49 previously. Its Chinese customers prefer fashion jewellery to precious metal jewellery such as silver and gold, and like good deals, owner Kanika Mittal, 35, noted.

Department store Takashimaya is "displaying more prominently" products that are more highly discounted and appealing to Chinese tourists, who make up 30 per cent of its foreign customers, said a spokesman.

SRA executive director Anthony Gan said the Chinese tend to look for goods and services tax refund service, shops that accept UnionPay, Mandarin-speaking staff and special offers.

The spending patterns of Chinese tourists have evolved, said UnionPay International South-east Asia general manager Yang Wenhui. He said it was "seeing spending on hotels, supermarkets, dining, airlines and retail grow at a much faster rate than luxury goods in general".

Tourism consultant Edward Chew said Chinese tourists no longer "purchase everything they come across", with many international brands now available in China.

The former Singapore Tourism Board regional director for Greater China said: "We need to distil what Singapore is good for and strong in and what's unique about our retail scene, and actively promote them to the Chinese traveller in Singapore."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline Orchard Road turns to WeChat to drive sales. Subscribe