Orchard Road remains a location of choice
Shopping is to Orchard Road what food is to Katong.
The 2.2km boulevard has more than 5,000 retail brands and has pulled in tourists and locals alike for decades.
It has faced and survived countless threats, including suburban malls, the rise of regional shopping hubs and even online shopping.
Research analyst Eunice Khoo, of CBRE Research Singapore, said the shopping belt still has many things going for it, including Government support.
"The Urban Redevelopment Authority has been proactive in ensuring that Orchard stays attractive and relevant as a desired retail destination.
"It has led infrastructural and landscape changes to the area to improve the shopper's experience and encouraged landlords to enhance their assets through various schemes.
"The Singapore Tourism Board and the Orchard Road Business Association are also constantly working to promote Orchard Road as an attractive retail destination," she wrote in a 2014 article.
But other experts say that some of the shops along the shopping belt are under threat.
Dr Lynda Wee, an adjunct associate professor in retail at Nanyang Technological University's business school, said brick-and-mortar retailers are having trouble with the new tricks of e-commerce.
"Online retailing redefines convenience and value. It's accessible anytime, anywhere. Traditional retailers face issues such as operating costs, shortage of manpower and trading within specified time," she added.
Traditional retailers are those who do not offer the online shopping option.
But shopping on the e-platform is not reason enough for such a slowdown, said Singapore Polytechnic marketing retail lecturer Amos Tan.
"Households in Singapore are not big on buying online and shopping online only constitutes less than 2 per cent.
"The diluted Orchard Road crowd can be attributed more to other reasons such as a change in the Singapore demographics and the convenience of heartland malls," he said.
"People today are more educated, earning better incomes and (are) well-travelled.
"Travelling now is... no longer an option but a lifestyle (and) Singaporeans today tend to shop more overseas than at home," he said.
Dr Wee said that part of the problem is that most malls are managed as Reit-instrument, focusing "on yield and rental income".
"(The) leasing team looks for proven brands and this promotes (a) sea of sameness," she said.
This, other experts say, is perhaps why many malls in the area feature fast-fashion tenants in prominent locations, but there is little coherence in how the shops are placed in relation to one another.
But a Government study showed that Reit (real estate investment trust) ownership is not to blame for high rents.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry said malls owned by Reits could be charging higher and raising rents faster simply because they are better located and more well-maintained than other shopping centres.
Only a few retailers islandwide see huge rental spikes, the ministry said.
It also said that up to a quarter of retailers every year would see either no rent increase or lower rents when they renewed their leases.
Ms Chia Siew Chuin, director of research & advisory at Colliers International, said: "The Singapore Tourism Board and its partners have realised and are implementing various programmes to retake the initiative."
But, she said: "Singapore as a shopping destination also faces competition from other cities in the region."
Still, Orchard Road remains a location of choice, most experts agreed.
It continues to be a world-class shopping street, as many international retailers looking to set up their first shops in Singapore seek prime spaces in high quality malls on Orchard Road.
Said Dr Wee: "It is accessible via public transportation. It also benefits from the marketing and promotion efforts by Singapore Tourism Board. Orchard Road remains a popular place for shopping and speciality merchandise here."
The diluted Orchard Road crowd can be attributed more to other reasons such as a change in the Singapore demographics, and the convenience of heartland malls.
- Singapore Polytechnic marketing retail lecturer Amos Tan
Orchard Road's shopping hurdles
Analysts say that e-commerce is not the only reason for the drop in business along Orchard Road.
Other reasons include:
Competition from suburban malls
Singapore Polytechnic marketing retail lecturer Amos Tan said that people no longer shop purposefully at large departmental stores.
One indication of this is Metro Holdings, which had opened a new department store in The Centrepoint in the final quarter of 2014, reporting a "disappointing level of sales resulted in losses being incurred by the new store".
Ms Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at Colliers International, said suburban shopping centres provide access to shopping and dining options for the immediate residential catchment population.
In a February report, sales for department store operator Isetan (Singapore) rose by 2.2 per cent to $340.3 million last year. Other than its new store in Jurong East, which completed its first full year of operations in 2014, sales at the other stores registered lower sales last year, due to the challenging and competitive environment.
With more heartland malls springing up in the last few years, shopping is not confined to locations and consumers no longer have to go to Orchard Road for the latest offerings, added Mr Tan.
In 2013, Jurong East became the suburbs' answer to Orchard Road when Jem and Westgate opened in June and December, giving shoppers access to international brands such as H&M and Kate Spade Saturday. The area now has four malls, including JCube and IMM.
Orchard Road also faces competition from destinations including Marina Bay and Changi Airport.
Retailers at Changi Airport registered 9 per cent annual growth in retail sales to a record of more than $2 billion last year.
Rent, the Reit factor and cookie-cutter malls
Dr Lynda Wee, an adjunct associate professor in retail at Nanyang Technological University's business school, said most malls are managed as Reit-instrument.
Reit or real estate investment trust, is a closed-end investment company that invests shareholders' money in real estate and real estate mortgages.
They include office and apartment buildings, warehouses, hospitals, shopping centres and hotels.
She said that new-to-market brands tend to prefer being located along Orchard Road "for easy accessibility and image because of its positioning as Singapore shopping street".
"But a lot of the new and unknown brands don't survive. They close down or move out in the average time span of two to three years," Mr Tan said.
Too many similar brands
So these new-to-market brands flood the main shopping belt.
Ms Chia: "While each mall positions itself to create a unique identity, the similarities among malls in Orchard Road could be the result of the typical types of tenants that have the ability to attract the masses, as well as their ability to afford retail space rents in Orchard Road.
"Such tenants typically comprise the fast fashion chains and fast-food chains that have the financial muscle and stamina to survive in the highly competitive retail scene."
WHAT MALL OWNERS SAY
Far East Organization
Mr Eric Tong, assistant director, Retail Business Group, said that footfall in Orchard Central has increased with the improved connectivity between 313@somerset, Orchardgateway and Orchard Central, coupled with its promotions in place.
The mall has eight retail levels - five levels above ground and three basement levels - and direct access to Somerset MRT station at B2.
Ms Cheryl Goh, its general manager, said there are more than 160 stores in the mall and some tenancy changeovers are in progress as part of the normal leasing cycle to refresh offerings to suit changing consumer and shopper trends.
She added: "In the past year, we have seen year-on-year shopper traffic grow by double digits with the increased attractiveness of the precinct due to the new developments in the area.
Frasers Centrepoint Malls
A spokesman said that The Centrepoint will be fronted by a new sunken plaza and feature a new multi-level gourmet precinct on Level One and food hall in Basement One.
Plans to revitalise the mall, as part of ongoing efforts to refresh mall offerings, were first shared with tenants last year to ensure spaces were vacated before renovation could begin in mid-May this year.
It opened in 1974 and has, over the years, constantly reinvented itself.
In 2012, Plaza Singapura was enlarged, with a new wing that is integrated with The Atrium@Orchard's retail podium.
Said Mr Ong Kee Leng, its general manager: "Currently, a few units in Plaza Singapura are carrying out renovation works by existing or incoming tenants.
"The incoming tenants at Plaza Singapura include well-known United Kingdom-based toy giant Hamleys, which will be opening its first Singapore store at the mall."