Stores ringing in more sales by fashioning new retail experience

April's estimated retail figures strongest since last July but experts caution they may indicate only a short-term trend

Sales at department stores rose 7.6 per cent year on year, compared with a 3.6 per cent dip in March.
Sales at department stores rose 7.6 per cent year on year, compared with a 3.6 per cent dip in March. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Greater customer engagement by retailers, coupled with a recovering economy, has contributed to a stronger showing in the retail sector, say experts.

Total estimated retail sales rose 2.6 per cent in April from a year earlier - the strongest showing since last July - compared with a revised 2 per cent increase in March, according to figures released by the Singapore Department of Statistics earlier this month.

In April, department stores' sales jumped 7.6 per cent year on year, compared with a 3.6 per cent dip in March, while apparel and footwear also gained 6.1 per cent.

Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, a marketing expert at National University of Singapore's Business School, told The Straits Times that this performance could be due to the bigger budgets of department stores.

"They have engaged in more experiential and innovative shopping activities, which have helped to encourage people to shop at their physical stores," she added.

Her sentiments were echoed by Adjunct Associate Professor Lynda Wee, who specialises in marketing and international business at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School.

"(Department stores) have relooked their core customers and curated their merchandise and shopping experience. They are more targeted and more focused," said Prof Wee.

For instance, Isetan now holds its Japanese fairs more regularly, carrying unique Japanese jewellery.

However, other experts remain more cautious on the rise. Ms Sarah Lim, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic who specialises in marketing and retail, said that the figures might just be part of a short-term trend.

"Largely, department stores still remain very quiet, with only a few of the main players drawing the crowds," she said.

On the macro level, there are indications of a local and global economic recovery.

Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin had noted in an earlier ST report that local retail sales are "starting to wake up after a long slumber".

"Stronger gross domestic product growth and a recent rally in the stock market are starting to show up in consumer spending. GDP growth is showing more signs of broadening beyond electronics and trade," he said.

Prof Ang, pointing to signs of a global recovery, said: "Europe is better than what it was three years ago and Japan has also shown signs of improvement. People are more optimistic and this may have contributed to more spending."

Singapore Retailers Association president Ramasamy Dhinakaran said the increase in tourist arrivals from Asia into Singapore in April from March as well as the same month a year ago, could have also contributed to the jump in sales.

Shoppers ST interviewed said that regular sales across a wide range of products have enticed them to spend more often.

Said teacher Nalini Pillai, 45: "There's a greater variety in the types of products that are on sale. I just seem to be buying more things, even when I don't need them."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline Stores ringing in more sales by fashioning new retail experience. Subscribe