Feature image belongs to Matt Wade
Stroll through Orchard Road’s malls these days and you’ll notice unusually spacious walkways. Where did the crowds go? Shuttered stores in Pacific Plaza, Shaw Centre, Scotts Square and Mandarin Gallery add to the look of a ghost town.
A slowing global economy, online shopping, and other factors, mean hard times for Singapore’s traditional shopping district.
Still, the malls are fighting back. Orchard Central and Centrepoint recently underwent major renovations and are set to go through more. The monthly Pedestrian Night has been trying to drum up business since 2014, and the annual fashion show, Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard, has graced the boulevard for seven years.
With past attempts in mind, here are some further suggestions for how malls can woo shoppers back to Orchard Road.
Vanishing shoppers signal a lowered cache, which keeps future visitors away. This mindset can be reversed with large-scale events that capitalise on broadly popular themes.
- Giant Water Slide
Few things liven up a street like a giant water slide, whether it is horizontal (like “Slide the City”) or vertical (like SEA’s tallest inflatable water slide at MBS). Inner tube rides and other kinds of watery fun provide an attractive break from Orchard’s fashionable but too-stylish-for-silliness image. This attention- and headline-grabbing event can be boosted by water-related carnival games, while food, beverage, beach and swim gear brands can extend their presence onto the street with pop-up carts.
2. Meet-the-Hollywood-Stars Events
Big names drive big business. Marina Bay Sands saw this first hand when thousands of fans filled four floors to catch the Hollywood stars of Captain America: Civil War. A section of the 2.2km Orchard thoroughfare could be converted into the longest red carpet walk where fans can line up for celebrity photos, and afterwards go for dinner in the malls that line Orchard Road.
3. Ninja Warrior Singapore
As popular as Mandarin Gallery’s free fitness classes are, imagine the buzz if a season of Ninja Warrior was filmed along Orchard Road. A Tarzan Swing in front of Tangs complex, or a Warped Wall climb under ION Orchard’s canopy would cast familiar facades in an exciting new light for pedestrians and TV viewers alike.
4) Escape Games
Jeopardy, clues, and a ticking clock – Haw Par Villa discovered that Singaporeans can’t get enough of escape games. If an escape game could entice hundreds back to the 79-year-old attraction, it could hardly do less for a well-known destination like Orchard Road.
Once the public is interested, the wooing begins. Easy travel between and within malls can streamline the shopping experience, clearing the way for future visits.
- Trishaws and travelators
A shopping trip that leaves you stressed or tired is one you’ll avoid. Walking down sunny Orchard Road, especially in a crowd, does just that. Free trishaw rides and travelators could ease the stress of travelling along Orchard Road.
2) Storage and Delivery of Purchases
E-commerce means no heavy lifting while shopping. To compete, malls could provide lockers for storing purchases, or even home delivery services, and thus the same hands-free shopping experience.
3) Relaxation Corners
Tired legs and arms from walking and carrying bags lowers shopping stamina. Relaxation corners with seats would provide much-needed rest and energy to continue shopping. More malls could also learn from Paragon and IKEA, by providing a play area or manned creche where parents could drop the kids and enjoy shopping.
4) Search Engines and Concierges
Concierges could offer the convenience of a search engine by locating products, services and ongoing sales for shoppers within the mall itself.
5) Ease Traffic Congestion
One major peeve for shoppers who drive is the constant traffic jam. Cars get stuck between vehicles at the nearby CTE entrance and those looking for a carpark in the area. A remedy would be wider roads, or a large parking area just outside the gantries so that transport into Orchard Road malls becomes free.
One of the ways to lure shoppers out of their homes is to give them an experience they can’t get elsewhere. Here are some ways shoppers can get their ‘experiential shopping’:
ION Orchard is trying, and succeeding, by pursuing an all-round approach. The mall is home to six flagship luxury stores, and it got a fresh look with a recent facelift, plus it provides unique experiences, among them:
a butterfly dome in 2015,
and aerial acrobatics this year.
Other malls can’t simply copy and paste, so here are other experiences nearby malls can offer to customers.
- Employ Boy/Girl Fridays to accompany lone shoppers and/or help transport their shopping around.
2. Provide ample Instagram opportunities. Models can parade down Orchard Road more regularly, and Instagram-worthy corners can be set up to attract customers.
Source: JAM Project
3. Tenant mix can be adjusted to include cinemas and restaurants – industries that enjoy perennial customer interest.
Here are some lessons from malls that have worked on some areas, but feel the need to enhance the overall shopping experience.
- Focus on something
Image belongs to David Lee
Funan once sold food, clothes and household appliances, but its shift in product focus to electronics let it ride the industry’s popularity and earned it a reputation rivalling Sim Lim Square (sans the con artists). In 2005, its minor facelift gave it a fresher appeal. Nevertheless the mall recognised the need to go “beyond just consuming goods and services”. It started holding annual anime festivals for cosplay and anime aficionados, and will be closing this June to transition into a larger “experiential creative hub”.
2. Mall layout and anchor tenants are key
Concept of Isfahan City Centre. Source: Ehsan6sha
Shaw Centre went through major renovations, and added a new link to neighbouring Shaw House. However, the limited range of shops, a dark interior and lack of open-air spaces has kept shopper numbers dismally low.
Malls have always changed with the times. If Orchard adapts to surf the latest trend, we may be in for fun times ahead.