Retail stores take a beating as footfall slows to a trickle
SRA says sales have fallen by up to 80 per cent; retailers hope for turnaround with infections down
It has been nearly a month since Singapore entered phase two (heightened alert), with the outdoor group size reduced to two and dining-in prohibited, among other measures.
Ms Rose Tong, executive director of the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), said yesterday that while the measures which kicked in on May 16 were necessary to deal with the spike in Covid-19 cases, retailers have suffered badly since.
Speaking to The New Paper, Ms Tong said: "With dining-in not permitted along with tightened restrictions on shopper capacity in malls, work from home as a default, home-based learning for schools and media coverage of increasing community cases, shopper traffic has been drastically reduced and retailers have seen sales drop by as much as 80 per cent."
The tighter restrictions are slated to end on Sunday, if the situation is brought under control.
But even if restrictions are lifted soon, Ms Tong warned that the road to recovery will be long.
"We expect business recovery to be slow as people may be cautious about visiting crowded air-conditioned places, such as shopping malls, even after restrictions are lifted," she said.
Over the past week, TNP visited 16 shopping malls, including ION Orchard, Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, Ngee Ann City, Far East Plaza, 313@somerset, Waterway Point, Tampines Mall, Century Square, AMK Hub, Junction 8, Nex and Lot One.
We noticed increased footfall at basement levels where supermarkets and food shops are at -- a stark contrast to the quieter retail shops at upper levels.
Some retailers TNP spoke to said they had taken a big hit in earnings over the past month, with some finding it difficult to reach sales targets and others struggling to break zero sales on a given day.
When TNP visited The Fashion Silk at Tampines Mall recently, a sales assistant who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan, said: "There has been a 70 per cent to 80 per cent fall in sales. I see about six customers a day, and even then, only about one or two purchase our products."
Mr Javiar Soh, 24, who works at Beadstreet, a shop in Cathay Cineleisure Orchard that sells mobile phone accessories, said sales have dropped by more than 50 per cent since the restrictions kicked in a month ago.
"I hope dining-in resumes soon, so we can get more footfall and possibly some walk-ins," he added.
There are some initiatives to support retailers in these tough times.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, announced a new rental support scheme on May 28 for small and medium-sized enterprises who are tenants in privately owned commercial properties.
A CapitaLand spokesman told TNP that it will provide rental rebates and rental restructuring to retailers whose operations have been impacted by the heightened measures.
The SRA is hoping an initiative with e-commerce platform Lazada for this year's Great Singapore Sale (GSS) will boost the beleaguered retail industry.
This year's GGS runs from June 6 to July 7, and Ms Tong said: "There is a store pick-up feature for shoppers who browse online to collect their purchases in person, and this could drive store traffic.
"Hopefully, retailers can up-sell to these consumers and also capture their personal data for future outreach to personalise sales promotion efforts."
The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) said it is offering support to retailers through its takeout and delivery e-brochure, which features deals and promotions exclusively for Orba members.
"The e-brochure also serves as a one-stop guide featuring food and beverage tenants in Orchard Road," its spokesman said.
With the number of community infections dropping, some retailers are hoping a turnaround will come soon.
When TNP dropped in on The Tinsel Rack, a women's clothing store at Tampines 1, a 24-year-old sales assistant who wanted to be known only as Ms Lim said: "We have a loyal fan base, so we do have some optimism that sales will pick up gradually."
Mr Dane Yong, 44, a senior optometrist at Optics Connection at AMK Hub, said: "We are actually hopeful things will get better and have already made some business plans for later down the road."
Given the easy transmissibility of the virus and the emergence of a number of variants, safety measures could well be tightened from time to time.
That is why the SRA is urging the retail community to formulate plans that will help them if they do encounter such a situation down the road.
Said Ms Tong: "It is imperative that retailers have strong business continuity plans and are able to swiftly and effectively respond to sudden tightening measures so as to remain viable."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: HEDY YANG AND KAVYA THEENAN