It’s not just you – fewer and fewer Singaporeans are shopping at Orchard Road. Here’s why Orchard Road is no longer at the centre of Singapore’s retail scene.
Orchard Road hasn’t just “lost some of its lustre.” It could be facing its final days as the shopping highlight of Singapore. Despite optimistic predictions – often by Orchard area landlords – all the signs suggest that the world is marching right past the famed shopping district.
Here’s why Singaporeans might never recapture the Orchard Road of the past:
Brick & Mortar Retail is Dying
We won’t bother rehashing the tired old rant that online shopping is killing brick & mortar retailers – you’ve already read a dozen articles about that.
Even if you haven’t, it’s simple common sense. If you can browse 50 different shops, compare prices internationally, and buy with a mouse click while eating ice-cream in your chair at 2 am, that’s probably going to be the way you shop.
Sure, physical retailers can innovate somewhat. But how many of those innovations can’t also be outdone by ecommerce retailers?
When physical retailers try and be quirky and have character, that means taking a big risk on new inventory and paying rent while they experiment. E-commerce retailers don’t have the same kind of inventory and storage issues, and can experiment with “being different” at a much lower risk.
As for the old notion of “personal service”, you’d be mistaken to think ecommerce retailers can’t duplicate that. Just watch how many people will buy a product because their favourite blogger is touting it; retail salespeople can only dream of having a loyal customer base that ranges in the hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions).
One celebrity blogger or YouTuber can sell more toothpaste / shampoo / video game downloads / aluminium wrapped dog droppings than the most cheery store assistant.
Singapore is Being Decentralised
Look at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Master Plan: the entire city is being decentralised. Jurong and Paya Lebar are already underway to becoming secondary hubs, and neighbourhood malls can now perform to the same level as many Orchard Road malls.
Heartland malls like Nex, IMM, Jurong Point, and so forth are beginning to hold their own. When major retailer Uniqlo opened in Tampines instead of Orchard, that was a strong sign as to how much malls outside District 10 are giving Orchard a run for its money.
As Singapore is increasingly decentralised, malls outside of the Orchard area will start to see an uptick in foot traffic. Along with lower rental rates, this will tempt retailers and restaurants away from the glamour of Orchard.
Variety Isn’t Easy to Get Due to Astronomical Rent
At around $30 per square foot per square foot per month (it can be as high as S$60 depending on where in Orchard you are), it’s no wonder Orchard is confined to high-end brands. There are many suggestions that Orchard Road malls are “too generic” and need to contain a better mix, but how?
Unique and flavourful stores don’t always generate massive revenue. An ‘80s nostalgia store, or handcrafted Victorian jewellery store, might draw shoppers – but those businesses probably can’t pay S$6,000 a month for 200 square feet.
So the stores on Orchard tend to restrict themselves to high-end or mainstream brands because that’s all that can survive Orchard rental. This in turn makes the entire shopping district bland, and creates a spiral of vacancy and disappointment.
But don’t count on Orchard Road malls to lower their rent; the developers and landlords also paid top dollar for those properties, and need to recoup their costs.
Orchard Road is No Longer the Centre of Singapore’s Retail Scene
Orchard Road isn’t going to vanish completely. It’s still got a lot of history behind it, and it has a lot of momentum to keep it going. However, the old days when Orchard Road was the final word in shopping spaces may be over.
In the coming decade, we’re likely to see multiple shopping havens distributed across the island, of which Orchard Road is just one. It may be fondly remembered as the granddaddy of Singapore’s retail hubs, but its days of being the only one might be coming to a close.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.