Retailers feel the pinch but not beauty salons

Discount signs during the Great Singapore Sale at Marina Square on May 28, 2016.
Discount signs during the Great Singapore Sale at Marina Square on May 28, 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

At luxury watch retailer Leong Poh Kee, where watches cost upwards of $15,000, sales have plunged by at least half since the beginning of the year.

Its regular customers, who contribute to most of the sales, are from the mineral and oil sector and have taken a hit from the economic slowdown, said its managing director William Leong.

"This is the worst I've seen in my more than 40 years of being in the business," said the 59-year-old. "Customers don't visit as frequently as before, and even when they come by, it's harder to convince them to buy."

It is not just the luxury segment that is feeling the pinch.

Retail experts have pointed to the slowing economy here and overseas as the key factor for the slump in sales during the recent Great Singapore Sale, which ran from June 3 to Aug 14. The latest official statistics show that retail sales, excluding motor vehicles, in June and Julyfell 3 per cent over the same months last year.

While it is not all doom and gloom yet, consumers are being more prudent with their spending, it appears.

At supermarket chain FairPrice, sales of its house-brand items, which are at least 10 per cent cheaper than popular brands, and its "everyday low-priced" products - a basket of items most popular among shoppers and which are competitively priced - have risen by about 10 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Madam Tong Xiao Jing, 54, who quit her job as a quality control manager last year and has been unable to find a job since, said she tries to buy cheaper household products now.


She shops at Swanston, a retailer at People's Park Food Centre known for selling products at lower prices than its competitors. Staff at the store told The Straits Times that business has been "very good".

"The items can be $1 or even $2 cheaper than elsewhere," said Madam Tong, as she loaded shampoo bottles into her shopping basket.

But while consumers scrimp on their daily necessities, one sector remains fairly resilient: beauty services. Facial, hair and nail salons, as well as aesthetic clinics, said sales are still growing, albeit at a slower rate.

"Sales have been fairly okay. We are still seeing growth although not as fast as compared with five years ago," said Ms Gladys Cheng, director of face spa chain Jet Concepts.

She added: "People will generally still buy when it comes to beauty. They may go for a cheaper option, but beauty is still a need for most."

Said Dr S.K. Tan, medical director of aesthetics practice IDS Clinic: "Patients do remark that the economy is bad... but consumer spending appears to be the same."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Retailers feel the pinch but not beauty salons'. Print Edition | Subscribe