Shopper traffic stabilises 3 weeks into phase two of Singapore's reopening, but many spend cautiously

Though some stores continue to see consistent shopper traffic, the initial rush of crowds seen during the first week of phase two has subsided. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Three weeks into phase two of Singapore's reopening, shoppers here have adjusted well to safety measures, said retailers.

Though some stores continue to see consistent shopper traffic, the initial rush of crowds seen during the first week of phase two has subsided, as malls and customers acclimatised to safe distancing rules.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Thursday (July 9), Ms Rose Tong, executive director of the Singapore Retailers Association, said some shoppers may also be more cautious about spending since the outlook on the economy moving forward is uncertain.

She said: "Shopper traffic overall has slowed since the first week. Initially, many headed out since they were stuck at home for so long, but now people are more likely to head to the shops only when they really need something."

Ms Tong added that with retailers having had time to get used to the safety measures, operations have also become smoother.

She said: "It's become a routine for everyone now."

A check with retailers here found that the response from shoppers has varied with some stores seeing more shoppers as the weeks go by while others have found that traffic peaked in the first week of phase two.

A spokesman for shopping mall Paragon said: "Shopper traffic and patronage has been encouraging and we are seeing the steady return of our local shoppers since the resumption of business in phase two."

She added that footfall at the mall has increased by about 10 per cent week on week.

"We anticipate that footfall will gain more traction in the weeks to come," she said.

Similarly, a spokesman for fashion chain H&M said stores have seen good patronage in the last few weeks.

Though the company declined to disclose sales figures, the spokesman said customer basket sizes have been increasing since the start of phase two.

At electronics and furniture retailer Courts, traffic was strongest in the first week of phase two, said Mr Matthew Hoang, country chief executive of Courts Singapore.

But he said the store continues to see "strong demand" for items such as refrigerators, laptops and tablets.

Ms Tong noted that while people will still purchase necessities, the current climate due to the pandemic does not encourage spending.

She said: "At the end of the day, without having to go to the office or having social functions or wedding dinners, people will have less of a reason to buy new things. So discretionary retail purchases will be limited."

At department store Robinsons, business has not been easy, said a spokesman for the store.

"There has not been signs of shoppers rushing to stores despite the long closures the way most had expected and traffic in stores continues to be significantly lower than last year," he said.

Retail experts said that while there had been some shoppers splurging at the onset of phase two due to accumulated demand over the circuit breaker period, that might not continue.

Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon from the National University of Singapore Business School said some might have felt the need to pamper themselves after having gone through the circuit breaker.

She said: "Also, because staying at home appears to be cost saving - no incurrence of transportation, eating out and shopping - individuals may have had a sense that they have been saving over the last two months and so now there is an 'excuse' to buy."

But shoppers may take a "wait-and-watch attitude" moving forward, said Mr Samuel Tan, course chair for the diploma in retail management programme at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business.

He said: "With the Government's economic growth forecast and the tightening of bonuses, Singaporeans could be more careful and sensitive in spending. With less disposable income, the propensity to spend may not increase."

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, said: "The real test for Singapore and for Singapore retailers will be when we are more open to tourist arrivals - and many retailers, especially in the city area, depend critically on tourists and business visitors. The longer that return is delayed, the more difficult it will be for the retailers to survive."

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