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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Sale season

Is the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) still as great?
The Straits Times - May 25, 2012
By: Gladys Chung
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Sale season -- ST FILE PHOTO

Now in its 19th year, the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) starts today for its annual eight-week run. But is it still as great?

With the growing presence of online boutiques that offer regular discounts, bricks-and-mortar retailers must feel the heat with every passing GSS.

Already, popular fashion e-tailers, such as Asos.com from Britain and Shopbop.com from the United States, and online outlet stores, such as TheOutnet.com and Reebonz.com, offer discounts of up to 80percent on a wide array of mid-priced and luxury items on a daily basis.

More of such online enterprises, which offer everything from household items to electronics - such as Gmarket.com.sg and Tmall.com, are popping up.

Online deals like these have taken the shine off GSS in the physical stores, says bank executive Sebrina Tan, 30.

'Websites such as Asos.com hold sales all the time and ship free to Singapore. So, if the quality and design of the clothes in the physical and virtual boutiques are similar, I'd rather shop online, where it's like GSS all year round and I don't have to deal with long queues,' she says.

Indeed, Ms Lau Chuen Wei, executive director of the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), says the retail business 'is getting to be very challenging as customers are now spoilt for choice'.

The SRA has been organising the GSS since 1997, but the shopping extravaganza was conceived by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1993.

Shoppers these days are a different breed, Ms Lau notes.

'Besides being more savvy because they are well-travelled, the onset of Internet shopping has also increased their range of options,' she says. 'They can shop globally without travelling and are no longer limited to shopping on home ground.'

MORE SPENDING ON DINING

There is cause for concern. While the overall takings at GSS have gone up, data from MasterCard - the official card of GSS - shows department store, jewellery, watch and electronics retail sales have taken a back seat to dining receipts.

Total spending by local and visiting MasterCard holders during last year's GSS jumped by 48 per cent to hit US$1.32 billion (S$1.67 billion), up from the US$839.2million over the same two-month period in 2010.

However, eating places and restaurants ranked first in the top five spend categories during the GSS period last year, followed by grocery stores and supermarkets; clock, jewellery, watch and silverware stores; department stores; and fast-food restaurants.

MasterCard declined to give actual figures, as well as the ranking of fashion-related categories.

Department stores and boutiques here are not backing down without a fight though.

Strategies include holding special fringe events and refining the personal touch.

While most retailers in the past treated the GSS as a time to 'merely clear old stock', Ms Lau of SRA says it has evolved into an event where 'special merchandise or other exclusives are being brought in for shoppers'.

Orchard Central, for example, will flag off its GSS sales with a Vintage Car Boot Sale at The Discovery Walk from tomorrow to June 24.

The trunks of about 15 rare vintage cars, such as the 1935 Ford Coupe, 1951 Singer Roadster, 1958 Austin Healey Sprite and 1967 Volkswagen Beach Buggy, will be turned into ad hoc stalls for five weekends.

For the first, celebrities such as Joanne Peh, Tay Ping Hui and Rebecca Lim will put up their pre-loved items for sale.

Discounted wares from the mall's retailers will be sold in the following weeks.

The range of events and promotions aims to 'appeal to shoppers with different interests, thus bringing stronger and better traffic to Orchard Central', says Ms Chan Iz-Lynn, assistant director of the mall's retail business group.

At Tangs, it is a case of 'if you can't beat them, join them'.

The department store is building its online presence with an e-store (estore.tangs.com) that was launched in April.

There, shoppers can get exclusive GSS deals, such as Brabantia steam irons and apparel from menswear brand Drifters, at discounts of up to 70 per cent.

Mr Gerry Rezel, Tangs' vice-president of communications, says: 'We acknowledge that there are customers who find online shopping a desirable alternative.

'As such, we've included, for a start, online shopping for our beauty selections and some limited-period offers from other product categories this GSS.'

Meanwhile, Robinsons aims to ramp up the personal touch that online stores lack. It aims to provide its usual 'excellent customer service' this GSS, says Mr David Tang, general manager of Robinsons Singapore.

'A traditional retailer gives the human touch which is not available on the Internet,' he adds. 'We encourage our employees to identify and provide suggestions on brands, which customers may appreciate based on their personal preferences and budgets.'

CREATING EXCLUSIVITY

Social media is being harnessed to reach out to shoppers this year.

In March, a GSS Facebook page (www.facebook.com/officialgreatsingaporesale) was launched so shoppers can get details on exclusive GSS deals, as well as take part in contests to win pre-paid MasterCard cards worth $100 each.

Dr Lynda Wee, Adjunct Associate Professor in retailing at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School, says exclusivity is the keyword for successful GSS promotions these days.

Retailers can, for instance, offer more closed-door events for VIPs where they are pampered with snacks and freebies.

Offering merchandise that is available only at selected locations will also create hype and draw shoppers, she adds.

For now, the sensory experience of shopping at physical stores will keep the crowds coming.

Associate Professor Seshan Ramaswami of marketing education at Singapore Management University points out: 'Shopping is not just about getting the best price, but also interacting with the sales staff, feeling the buzz of a store and the physical hunt for a good match or deal, all of which will continue to sustain the GSS.'

After all, the GSS is the 'one and only islandwide sale' here, says Ms Ranita Sundra, director of attractions, dining and retail at the Singapore Tourism Board, which supports the GSS.

gladysc@sph.com.sg

1 Make a checklist

Go through your wardrobe to see what you lack. Maybe you just need a basic tee, blazer or a pencil skirt with which you can assemble multiple outfits. Then zoom in on these items at the sales so you do not spend unnecessarily.

The GSS is a good time for you to stock up on basics such as white shirts and tees, as they usually turn yellowish within three months if worn regularly. Discounts on basics can go up to 60 per cent at brands such as Armani Exchange, ck Calvin Klein, Gap and Guess.

Also stock up on kitchenware and bedsheets, which can go up to 60 per cent less at John Little, Takashimaya Department Store and Robinsons. For example, the popular frying pan from South Korea, Happy Call Pan, now costs $89, about 50 per cent less than its usual price of $170 at John Little.

2 The early bird catches the worm

Scout around for deals one week before the official launch of the Great Singapore Sale.

For instance, Robinsons has slashed the prices of certain items, such as winterwear, kidswear and footwear, from the current and past seasons, by up to 70 per cent since the start of this month. Sales at some retailers, such as Topshop, Isetan and Gap, also began early, with discounts of up to 50 per cent. The markdowns for some items are the same as what you will get in the first few weeks of GSS.

Getting first dibs means you are more likely to buy the items in the sizes, colours and designs that you want.

3 Patience pays off

Holding out for better buys does pay off. Generally, there are three waves of sales during GSS, especially for department stores.

During the first, products from the current season will be marked down by up to 30 per cent, while past season items can go for up to 70 per cent less. But these are usually unpopular items or those that come in limited pieces or sizes.

The next wave, which usually starts in the third week of June, will see prices of products from the current season slashed further - to 50 per cent off.

The last wave kicks off around the second week of July, with items going at 70 per cent less. Discounts for unpopular items can go up to 80 per cent.

Luxury labels usually start trimming their prices about two weeks after the official launch of GSS. The discounts will start at about 30 to 40 per cent off bags, shoes and clothes from past seasons. About a month later, discounts can climb to 60 per cent off for the oldest items.

4 Cast your net wider

Don't just stick to the boutiques and stores in the main shopping strips such as the Orchard Road belt and the Marina Bay area.

As they draw hordes of shoppers, the more popular sizes and nicer designs on offer at, say, high-street stores, including Topshop and Uniqlo, will usually be snapped up fast.

Try your luck instead in big malls such as VivoCity and suburban malls such as Jurong Point, Tampines Mall and Nex in Serangoon Central.

5 Buyer beware

Don't be seduced by discounts alone, especially when it comes to skincare and beauty products.

Make it a habit to check the products' expiry dates as hefty discounts, such as 70 per cent or more on a single item or one-for one deals, could be signs that retailers are trying to get rid of products nearing the end of their shelf life.

Go for special GSS value sets instead, such as Lancome's UV BB Complete Set at $80 (worth $111) which is available from June 2.

It includes UV BB Complete SPF50/PA+++ 30ml, Genifique Youth Activator (5ml) and Teint Miracle Foundation (5ml).

If you can open the product, look for signs of deterioration, such as strange smells, separation in skincare formulas or white dots on lipsticks.

Certain sportswear items that are discounted by more than 60 per cent can also be suspect.

For instance, avoid older models of sports shoes as the glue on rubber soles tends to harden over time if the shoes are unworn. This will cause the soles to fall apart after just a few uses. The elastic bands of sports shorts that have been on the shelves for more than a year can also snap or loosen easily.

6 Brave the sales in comfort

Head for the sales in an outfit that cuts down on the need to queue for a fitting room.

Wear a tight-fitting tank top so you can slip dresses or tops on and off easily over it. Pair it with a maxi skirt so that you can pull on skirts and pants without sacrificing your modesty.

Wear flats or sandals that are not just comfortable for hours of shopping, but are also easy to slip on and off so you can try on shoes easily.

For convenience, take along a large shopping tote in which you can put all your purchases - and save the environment by doing away with plastic bags. Remember to pack a water bottle to rehydrate on the go.

7 Don't stress over parking

Download apps such as SG Carparks and Cheap Parking on your smartphone to find out which malls offer the cheapest parking rates before you head out.

Some malls, such as Ion Orchard and Orchard Central, offer valet parking. At Orchard Central, valet parking is free but regular parking charges apply. Over at Ion Orchard, the valet service costs $4 on top of regular parking charges.

8 Book yourself into a hotel room

Why waste time and money travelling back and forth if you plan to do some serious bargain hunting? More than 50 hotels, including Grand Park Orchard, Goodwood Park Hotel and The Fairmont Singapore, are offering deals on room rates during the Great Singapore Sale.

For example, get 20 per cent off the Deluxe Room at Grand Park Orchard, opposite Paragon, when you book and check in between today and July 22. The Rendezvous Grand Hotel Singapore near The Cathay is offering an 18 per cent discount on its Deluxe Room when you book and check in between today and July 27.

Visit www.stayinsingapore.com for the full list of hotels and details.

9 Shop sensibly

Not everything on sale is a good buy.

It is common for retailers to try to get rid of unwanted stocks by slashing prices.

Even if the items are dirt cheap, if they do not fit, are torn or stained or have missing buttons, zippers or sequins, they are not worth the money.

Do scrutinise the items for defects before buying as sale items usually cannot be returned or exchanged.

10 Take all your loyalty and credit cards

Always ask the sales assistants if there are any special deals for card holders before paying. There may be further discounts or freebies. For instance, when you charge at least $500 to your MasterCard at Goldheart Jewel Atria at 313@somerset, you will receive an additional $100 off gem-set jewellery.

Also check the Facebook pages and websites of your favourite malls and retailers to get sales updates so you don't miss out on any good deals.

We like the Great Singapore Sale's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/officialgreatsingapor sale), where you stand to win pre-paid MasterCard cards worth $100 each.

~ Additional reporting by Matthew Wee

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