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3 Challenges Facing Singapore Retail Placemaking

29/08/2018

E-Commerce makes up just 5% of total retail sales in Singapore, a fraction of the $44.8b chalked up in 2017 according to a joint study by Google and Temasek Holdings. With offline retail here to stay for the foreseeable future, there is real interest in the introduction of activity-based experiential retail spaces in malls.

Some global cities have been successful in leveraging placemaking to drive traffic in-store. Singapore’s retail landscape poses some limitations, though. In this article we’ll go through these limitations in turn, as well as explaining why the Funan redevelopment could hold the key to the future of Singaporean mall experiences.

Land Scarcity

Land scarcity in Singapore has shaped the way malls are configured and designed. Maximising the use of space has been landlords’ key consideration when planning the design of shopping malls. They’re compactly sized, angular shaped to fit in as many trades as possible, to max out every inch of the net lettable area available. Singapore’s dense land mass will put a lid on the amount of space carved out for effective placemaking.

Placemaking has so far been confined to common areas with targeted community events in a bid to drive traffic to malls, increase dwell time in the hope that shoppers will be enticed by the brands and leave the mall with several purchases. Until placemaking can be creatively integrated and weaved in and out of shops, there will be a limit to the amount of placemaking in retail malls. Unless landlords undertake a complete redevelopment of a retail mall, the benefits of incorporating an element of placemaking within the limits of an existing structure may be negligible.


Cookie Cutter Heartland Malls Still a Hit

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Curated, community-event driven spaces will probably be limited only to large malls in shopping clusters outside of residential estates. The current cookie-cutter formula in the heartlands are still a favourite with heartlanders and many such malls are targeted at families. Residents living near these malls like them for their wide array of fast fashion brands, F&B operators with a good mix of cuisines, educational and enrichment options and supermarket anchors who typically make up the mix. Outside of these estates with a ready residential catchment, it would appear that malls in Orchard Road, Bugis, and other city fringe locations would benefit more from a well-thought through strategy to create common spaces offering unique “user-x” experiences to drive shoppers to malls.

Shareholder Accountability

Landlords continue to have to account for profitability to shareholders and the most effective means is to maximise the amount of income generated through rents. Allocating more NLA to common spaces is almost a write-off on potential income, a risky venture in the face of a highly competitive market landscape where the fight for funds is relentless. Left to individual landlords, placemaking will probably see slow progress. A coordinated multi-stakeholder approach seems to be more effective. Already, the state planners have in place a coordinated multi stakeholder strategy to programme streetscapes in a bid to inject vibrancy in local precincts. This is the reason behind URA and STB’s commissioning a billion-dollar study to find a way to reinvigorate Orchard Road.

The Funan Perspective

Whatever the outcome of the study, all eyes are on the soon-to-be completed Funan, once a digital IT mall but now re-positioned an “experiential playground for the senses”. It is tapping on the millennial shopper, technopreneurs and the co-living community to engage actively with the space to create their own learning and discovery. How those experiences will translate to cash tills ringing and online sales being logged will be instructional for the future of retail in Singapore.

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