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65% discount at outletsShopping is top of the list when Singaporeans travel and factory outlets have become a must-do
A new shopping mall in Johor Baru will soon give Singaporeans more discount shopping options in the region.
On Dec 2, the US Premium Outlets chain will launch its 70th branch, Johor Premium Outlets, in Kulaijaya, Johor Baru. The 16,258 sq m mall, just an hour's drive away from Singapore, will offer designer brands such as Coach, Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo at discounts of up to 65 per cent.
There are plans for daily buses to take Singaporeans to the mall, which has a 800-seater food court and restaurants.
Singaporeans are no strangers to outlet malls. Travel agencies such as Chan Brothers Travel have been including visits to outlet malls in tour packages to the United States, Europe and Australia from as far back as two decades ago.
Chan Brothers spokesman Jane Chang says outlet malls are 'extremely popular' with shoppers, who check out websites before their trip so they know where to find their favourite brands on arrival.
'Some Singaporeans can splurge a few times of their tour fare in these outlets alone,' she said.
Within the last decade, factory outlets have popped up in places such as Hong Kong and Japan. They offer similar brands to those in the West and give discounts of between 25 and 80 per cent.
These outlets are now a fixture in tour packages offered by travel agencies here. CTC Holidays included regional outlet malls in tour packages to Hong Kong and Japan five years ago. Its spokesman Alicia Seah says the malls are popular because clothing sizes fit Singaporeans better.
ASA Travels organises tours to outlet malls in Japan and Australia, but its spokesman Eileen Oh says Hong Kong's Citygate outlet mall is the most popular among customers.
'Citygate's popularity is probably due to its proximity to Singapore, favourable currency exchange rates and ease of access since it is adjacent to one of the MTR stations,' she says.
But how do these regional outlets compare to those in the US, which has sprawling outlet malls such as Woodbury Common in New York?
Not as well, say those who have shopped here and in the West.
Businessman Christopher Quek, 33, who has been to Woodbury Common, Japan's Gotemba Premium Outlets and Hong Kong's Citygate, says: 'Outlet shopping in the region cannot compare to the US. Premium Outlets in the US are the cheapest, followed by Gotemba, then Citygate.
'For example, a Coach wallet can cost US$80 (S$104) in the US, but about $200 in Japan and $250 in Hong Kong.'
He says that during his recent trip to Hong Kong, he was 'very disappointed' to find that Citygate prices were, at most, 10 per cent cheaper than prices here.
However, some shoppers say outlets in Japan offer better sizes and merchandise produced solely for the Japanese market.
Photographer Dexter Choong, 35, says: 'Standard Japanese shoes sizes are usually small, so my wife was able to find shoes from brands such as Prada and Tod's in sizes and designs that are only for the Japanese market.'
Some regulars warn that shoppers should exercise caution when shopping at less well-known outlets.
Indonesian operations executive Maria Marisa Halim, 27, says the quality of products on offer at factory outlets in Bandung can vary. Bandung, a three- hour drive from the capital Jakarta, has up to 40 factory outlets offering brands such as Zara and Mango and is popular with visitors from other Indonesian cities on weekends and holidays.
Ms Halim, who is based in Singapore, says: 'You need to check the stuff carefully. Some look fake because they have logos pasted on them. Check the sizes because they might not be labelled correctly.'
With the opening of Johor Premium Outlets, travel agencies such as CTC Travel are planning to include day trips to Johor Baru in its regional package tours.
However, Singaporeans planning to load up on bargains across the Causeway or during their travels anywhere should remember that they will be taxed if they return home carrying goods with values that exceed their GST and duty-free allowance - $300 for those above 18 and who have been out of the country for more than 48 hours. They must declare the goods at Customs as the items are subject to 7 per cent tax.
Those travelling for less than 24 hours get a tax allowance of $50, while those who have been away for between 24 and 48 hours get a $150 allowance. Go to www.customs.gov.sg for details.
Despite his misgivings about regional outlets, Mr Quek is planning to head to Johor Premium Outlets to shop for Gap jeans.
'They cost $79 to $120 in Singapore and I have a very strong feeling they will be 50 per cent cheaper in JB because Gap items are very cheap at Premium Outlets.
'Premium Outlets are very well organised. They don't have things all over the place and you will definitely find your size,' he adds.