It is a little more than a month into the annual shopping season in Singapore, but one would be forgiven for not realising the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) is underway because of the lacklustre discounts offered by brick-and-mortar retailers and half-empty shopping malls.
In to its 25th year, GSS was an occasion that foreign and local consumers would look forward to in its heydays, before the rise of ecommerce. However, following the digital advent, GSS sales have dipped for the third consecutive year, according to the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), leading to a much quieter sales season.
Hanming Huang, regional managing director, South Asia and Greater China at Criteo points out that this is due to digitally-savvy consumers making informed buying decisions based on online research, social media and peer recommendations. This is especially true for millennials, he notes, who are set to become the largest consumer group in Singapore.
In addition, Huang highlights that many consumers are also opting to purchase online instead of visiting physical stores, the primary sales channel that has been the hallmark of GSS. It is therefore no surprise that Singapore currently records the highest online spending per capita in the Southeast Asia region, with three in five consumers buying products online at least once a month.
“Competition has also intensified. Regional and international e-commerce players view Singapore as an attractive destination and target, due to the country’s advanced logistics infrastructure, high internet and mobile media penetration, and rising disposable household income,’ Huang explains. “With local e-commerce sales projected to continue growing and hit SG$10 billion by 2020, the retail opportunity has not diminished. GSS organisers and retail participants must adapt to maximise this opportunity, and they must rethink and redesign their engagement strategies to address changes in shopper behaviour and the emergence of digital channels for commerce.”
Sanchit Mendiratta, a partner at Happy Marketer, concurs with Huang and argues that it is not ‘even fair’ to expect a shopping event like GSS to work in its original format, saying: “Consumer's purchase patterns have changed significantly over the last five years from searching for everything on Google, to reading reviews and watching unboxing videos on YouTube. As of today, a Lazada like e-commerce platform can generate a lot more buzz and sales with daily deals during GSS which locals in Singapore benefit a lot more from. While this is good, the tourism ‘being in Singapore’ aspect of GSS is lost with e-commerce.”
What are the organisers doing?
Another factor for the slow death of the GSS is due to organisers embracing emerging technologies to enhance shopper engagement in the past couple of years, despite statistics showing Singapore consumers are highly connected over mobile, with over 95% owning a smartphone. The SRA only launched the GoSpree app in 2017 to house GSS deals under one digital platform, with more than 200 participating brands coming aboard to offer exclusive offers and discounts through the app.
According to Huang, this move had positive results, with the app downloaded more than 34,000 times and the Department of Statistics reporting a two to four percent increase in retail sales between June and August 2017, as compared to the corresponding period in 2016.
This year, SRA has made further improvements to the GoSpree app, which suggests that organisers are also recognising the importance of using personalisation technologies and connecting offline and online shopping experiences, says Huang. Data analytics is allowing the SRA to push personalised recommendations to shoppers through its mobile app, while geofencing ensures e-coupons offered by nearby merchants appear when users search for offers by location.
Sumit Ramchandani, head of SEA at Lion & Lion lauds the move by SRA to introduce the GoSpree app as he believes that with effective digital marketing and omnichannel tactics, the GSS has the potential to yet again become a premium-shopping event, comparable to the Dubai Shopping Festival that continues to grow every year. “The potential to accelerate growth even further exists, by leveraging the digital channels to launch full scale marketing campaigns that effectively target not only people in Singapore but also potential tourists and visitors with a propensity to actively shop, both offline and online,” he adds.
How should brick-and mortar retailers build on the positive results?
While the positive results from GoSpree serves as a rallying cry for local brick-and-mortar retailers, Huang says is imperative that they do not rely on the SRA’s efforts alone, but also invest in proprietary digital platforms and strategies of their own, to capture the attention and interest of Singapore’s mobile shoppers.
To energise sales, Huang suggests that retailers must also make native mobile apps the centrepiece of their engagement strategies and integrate data across online and offline channels, at scale, to deliver omnichannel experiences.
This is because consumers are drawing less and less of a distinction between online and offline, as across the Asia Pacific region, including Singapore, four in 10 shoppers are ‘webrooming’, explains Huang. They also view a product online but purchase in-store, with three in 10 ‘showrooming’, which means they discover a product in-store but purchase it online.
The region is also mobile-first, generating the highest share of retail transactions on mobile shopping apps, with a joint-report by AppsFlyer and Facebook finding that around 50% of paying consumers are multi-purchase shoppers.
“An omnichannel experience could look like this: A customer walking down Orchard Road discovers a desired dress on a brand’s native mobile app. The app, which has access to integrated point of sales or customer relationship management data, shows that an outlet located two streets away carries the piece in the right size and colour. Fifteen minutes later, the customer is in-store. The piece is retrieved by a salesperson after a few swipes on an in-store mobile device. The purchase is swiftly completed on the spot through Apple Pay,” says Huang.
“The modern shopper journey encompasses multiple channels – brick-and-mortar stores, PCs and mobile. To boost sales before, during and after GSS, local retailers must take steps to ensure these channels communicate seamlessly with one other, and with their customers.”
The future of GSS? Follow the example of e-commerce companies
Despite the decline in sales, the GSS’ strong branding and reputation is not lost on Singaporeans, says Huang, pointing out that e-commerce players like Alibaba, Lazada and Zalora are acknowledging this sales opportunity and rolling out their own GSS promotions.
For example, Lazada created a photoshoot with its staff who posed as models for characters like ‘Homeboy Harry’, ‘Act Chio Amanda’, ‘Bestest BBs’, ‘Revolutionary Raj’ and ‘Trendy Tiffany’ clutching products from the retailers on its platforms, while offering the best deals. Alibaba meanwhile, used its Taobao and Tmall marketplaces to hold its first-ever GSS-focused sale, in conjunction with its 618 mid-year shopping festival in China.
Taobao also held its first Taobao Home pop-up store in Singapore, with Alibaba claiming that an estimated 40,000 patrons experienced a glimpse of its 'New Retail' concept for the first time.
Explaining to The Drum why Alibaba decided to take part in GSS this year, Lilian Wu, director of marketing at Alibaba, says: “Singapore is definitely one of the key markets for us because of the mature e-commerce landscape and the digital savvy consumers. Our target overseas is to serve the 100 million Chinese outside of China, so Singapore is a good fit as a springboard to SEA because we have only just recently open an office here. We want to do what we can to help the local market.”
Huang urges brick-and-mortar retailers to follow in Lazada’s and Alibaba’s footsteps to build engagement and sales opportunities with new audience segments, like online shoppers in other countries, because shoppers, domestic and foreign alike, love options. He feels that, by doing this, GSS can co-exist and thrive alongside other major events like 618, Chinese New Year, Ramadan, 11.11 and Black Friday.
“The question is whether local retailers are willing to take the necessary steps to transform and align themselves with consumers’ omnichannel paths to purchase, because the likes of Lazada and Zalora are using machine learning technology to deliver personalised recommendations to shoppers based on their needs and wants, in real-time,” says Huang.
The poor state of the GSS has also affected Orchard Road, which is Singapore's main shopping belt. This has concerned the government so much, that it has commissioned a S$1.3 million study by Australian urban planning consultancy firm Cistri.
Mendiratta feels that a revitalised retail scene and Orchard Road will help tourism and in turn, the GSS festival. Huang concurs, adding that malls must embrace new technology and data-driven metrics to create unmatched value and irresistible experiences for consumers.
For example, augmenting existing security cameras with image recognition technology and artificial intelligence will enable the tracking of footfall and mall visit timings. That, when combined with retailers’ point of sales and customer relationship management data, as well as online browsing and purchasing data, can provide a holistic understanding of the entire omnichannel shopping experience.
"Mall operators and retailers that master this art of collecting, integrating, and using offline and online data can then design immersive and personalised content and experiences to aid product discovery and delight shoppers, whether in-store, online, or both," explains Huang.