Sim Lim Square still suffering after Jover Chew saga
Do not mention that Jover Chew name at Sim Lim Square.
You are likely to get a frown or worse, a business owner spewing vulgarities.
Jover is bad for business, and business has been bad at Sim Lim Square since the infamous incident last November.
And it is not just the mobile phone shops that are hit.
About 90 per cent of shops in the mall have been affected by slowing business, and some retailers are still unhappy that it took one man to hurt them, said a spokesman for Sim Lim Square mall.
The Jover Chew incident was not just another dispute in the local mall. This time, it went international.
"We have a joke around here, that if you fall in Sim Lim Square now, you will have space to roll around.
"Some shop owners occasionally bring their young kids here on weekends, and they can run around without bumping into anyone," Mr Poon, the manager of a computer shop, says with a laugh,
He declined to give his full name.
"After the Jover Chew incident, human traffic dropped by about 90 per cent, and it was only this year that the number of people visiting the mall picked up by 30 to 40 per cent from the third to the sixth storey," says a spokesman for the mall."Some shops still rely on business from their regular customers; IT in Sim Lim Square is still quite good," he adds.
Four mobile shops left the mall after the Jover incident and a series of police raids.
A TNPS team visited the mall on Jan 28 at 7pm and found the first two storeys to be quiet.
That's where mobile phone shops - the source of most complaints - are usually located.
But shops from the third to the fifth storey, which normally sell computer accessories, laptop parts or offer computer repair services, were also quieter than usual.
"Regulars would not usually come after 6pm, but it was definitely more crowded around 7pm before the Jover Chew incident.
"Some retailers are struggling to pay rent because there is no business for them," the spokesman said.
KNEELING AND PLEADING
The Jover Chew incident went viral after someone posted a video of a customer kneeling and pleading with Chew for a refund of an iPhone 6 he had purchased.
Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai had paid $950 for an iPhone 6 before being nearly forced to pay an additional $1,500 for a year-long warranty.
A week before the incident, Chew made the headlines for refunding a customer $1,010 in coins. Two other mobile shops, under investigation by the police, were also raided. These shops had the most consumer complaints filed against them.
Notices are placed around the mall with the names of shops with the most complaints filed with the Consumers Association of Singapore.
In a bid to identify honest retailers for shoppers, Sim Lim Square management mooted the STARetailer initiative about two years ago.
Businesses that have not received complaints over a period of time are given stickers with the STARetailer logo to display in their shops, keeping customers informed of the reliable businesses.
While the incident had left an indelible mark on the mall's reputation, the Singapore Tourism Board looked to reassure tourists that the actions of a few errant retailers "are not reflective of the entire retail industry".
Businesses feel the pinch
They may not be in the business of selling consumer electronics.
They may not even be located on the storeys that are supposedly avoided by customers.
But these retailers in Sim Lim Square are also feeling the impact.
A manager of the laptop outlet of PC Dreams, who wanted to be known only as Mr Poon, says: "There have been smaller crowds and more of our customers go to our Funan branch.
"You can safely say that our takings have dropped between 10 and 20 per cent, and walk-in customers have dropped between 20 and 40 per cent."
"Local and tourist confidence has also gone down," he says.
Mr Poon says he notices that shops on the lower storeys have been closing earlier as well.
Some shops that used to close at around 8pm, are closing as early as 6.30pm sometimes.
When asked about his thoughts on mobile phone shops giving the mall a bad reputation, Mr Poon said: "These things don't just happen in Singapore, you get it in other places as well.
"We live in a fair society. If some mobile shops are not operating in the right way, there are ways to settle it."
"We have to spare a thought for the small businesses that are genuine," he says, adding that they, too, "have to make a living".
Good value and decent selection to be found
Regulars continue to patronise the shops.
Mr Reg Wee is one of them.
The 47-year-old engineer has been going to Sim Lim Square for 20 years, and knows his favourite shops and the ones to steer clear of.
"I avoid the first storey generally, especially since I'm not in the market for the items they sell.
His usual haunts are on the third to fifth storeys, which deal mainly in computer accessories, parts and computer repair.
"There is good value for money and a decent selection."
He adds: "It's a one-stop shop, If one shop doesn't have the product I am looking for, they can ask neighbouring shops. If you are smart, you can get a good deal."
WHAT'S ON THE MARKET
For Mr Wee, going to Sim Lim Square also gives him an idea of what gadgets are currently on the market, and he also finds other gadgets that appeal to his engineering curiosity.
"I bought an LED lamp that was DC-powered, so seeing it being sold tells me what has become mainstream."
For Mr Wee, some of the best deals he has found in Sim Lim Square include computer accessories like thumb drives, found on the fifth floor and computer repairs.
He says of the repair works done: "It may be more costly than doing it yourself, but it is worth it."
His advice is simple.
"You have to be street-smart. Find out what is the market price. If the price is too high or too low, there is something wrong.
"If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't true," he says with a laugh.
Tourist: Negative publicity impacts all SG electronic stores
She has heard the stories and knows the reputation the mall has.
But that did not stop Australian Donna Taylor, 40, from checking out Sim Lim Square.
Ms Taylor, who was here in November on her second trip to Singapore, says she is no stranger to the notoriety that Sim Lim Square had acquired.
"I heard of Sim Lim's reputation before going there. I researched stories of other tourists, who were quite open about their experiences, the shops to stay away from and what to look for."
She read up on past incidents that plagued the mall before her visit.
"I was made aware of a situation where a customer fought to receive a refund and was then paid in small coins," recalls Ms Taylor in an e-mail interview after returning to Australia.
She had come across the incidents through an online search, and was also told when she spoke to locals while she was here. But the stories did not deter her from visiting the mall.
She says: "I guess you could say that I had a morbid fascination with Sim Lim Square, given its terrible reputation."
DID HER HOMEWORK
That does not mean she went in unprepared. She did her research beforehand to ensure that she was paying a fair price for the things she wanted.
"I knew what I wanted to buy before I went to Sim Lim Square, so I researched the prices before I went to Singapore. I also saved my larger purchases for more reputable venues," she says.
"I bought a Bluetooth speaker and headphones from the Sony store. These items had price tags attached, and I found the prices online, so I knew the prices quoted were right. I also bought a number of smaller items," she recalls.
She later posted on the travel site, TripAdvisor, that "if you know what you're after, are prepared to haggle and are well-informed, then there are some good buys to be had".
"As a tourist, I can tell you that the recent negative publicity about Sim Lim Square not only impacts the reputation of the mall, but all electronics stores in Singapore," says Ms Taylor.
Clauses to boot errant retailers out
Sim Lim Square is a strata title mall, which means each unit has its own owner. The mall's management cannot dictate who can and cannot operate in the mall.
But to give teeth to the landlords, the mall's management corporation strata title council came up with rental clauses which would allow the landlords to boot out misbehaving tenants.
The clauses make it compulsory for tenants to compensate landlords for costs when they take back a unit, such as loss of rent, reported The Straits Times.
Grounds for booting out a tenant include:
- If the authorities, such as the Consumers Association of Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board, receive five or more consumer complaints against a tenant, its subtenant or employee within a month.
- If he has a bankruptcy order made against him, is struck off the Register of Businesses, or is determined by a court to have flouted the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.