To bring shoppers back, Orchard Road needs to find a new identity and meet the needs of modern Singaporean families.
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, we’re going to go ahead and say this: Orchard Road has lost its former glory. Orchard Road is (still being) branded as “Singapore’s premier shopping belt”. But when neighbourhood shopping malls can fulfil your whims and fancies, the glitzy and glamorous Marina Bay is totally a thing, and online shopping sites hog every screen on the island, what meaning does that hold? Why would you go shopping at Orchard Road?
You wouldn’t – because there simply isn’t any reason to. Orchard Road needs to find a new identity and purpose. It needs to realign its offerings to meet the needs of modern shoppers. Here are 4 changes that could lure Singaporeans back to Orchard Road.
Make Public Spaces Public Again
Come now, you and me both know that shoppers stay away from Orchard Road because of the impossible crowds that gum up the public spaces.
If Orchard Road is to regain its popularity as a shopping street, well, it’s streets actually need to be walkable. The trick is to find some way to keep clear public spaces such as walkways, tunnels, thoroughfares and building entrances, so pedestrian and vehicular traffic can flow as needed.
To do that, we need to keep the masses off the pavements, staircases, footpaths and fields. How? By giving people something to do.
Give Shoppers Something To Do Besides Shopping
Ever wondered why Orchard Road came to be the favourite spot for all those very spontaneous and very public weekend picnics?
No, it’s not because Wisma Atria makes for a scenic backdrop for all those selfies. Quite simply, it’s because there’s nothing to do. Which is also the same reason why shoppers have stopped going to Orchard Road. Shopping has become such a pedestrian activity that the promise of buying what you want is no longer compelling enough to make someone actually get up off the couch.
In the face of more efficient, convenient and cheaper ways to shop, Orchard Road needs to offer more than just shopping. In order to win the crowds back, Orchard Road needs to give people something to do.
In other words, don’t just plonk store after soulless store in front of jaded Singaporeans and expect us to come rushing in. Instead, offer an experience – an exciting, engaging, unique and meaningful moment in exchange for the time and effort spent visiting.
So what can Orchard Road offer shoppers, besides shopping?
Meet the Practical Needs of Busy Singaporean Families
Neighbourhood malls work because they are part of a landscape that allows the typical Singaporean family to meet all its needs. To a time-strapped family with tuition classes to attend, groceries to buy, bills to pay, library books to return, and hungry bellies to feed, taking Sunday afternoon to go to Orchard Road is a luxury that is ill-afforded. It’s more efficient and less tiring when you can run all your errands and buy those new bedsheets within 15 minutes of each other.
If Orchard Road can start offering similar services sought after by busy Singaporean families, spending the occasional weekend in Orchard Road might not be such an impossible prospect. The recently re-launched [email protected] is a great example of how civic and public institutions can be roped in.
But why stop there? Why not have a museum detailing the history of Orchard Road, integrated with the most glamorous hawker centre ever? How about holding classes on how to make Singapore’s iconic dishes and desserts? Ya know, stuff to keep the kids entertained while mum and dad do the adulting?
Another idea: Bring back the colour and cheer of Singapore in the 80s, with old-style kitschy carnivals. These can be integrated into the existing public spaces, and offer a mix of free and paid services, such as ferris wheels and ice cream kiosks.
Heck, give that ice-cream uncle a proper place to ply his wares while you’re at it. The key is to convert public spaces into areas of activity, which will strategically invite participation from shoppers, stop crowds from congealing, and foster economic activity.
Make Space for Rare or Local Brands
Offering amenities, taking back public spaces, and providing integrated activities can help lure shoppers back. To truly revitalise Orchard Road, we need to tackle the main problem – how boring it is to shop there. It sounds counter-intuitive.
With virtually every big-name brand being represented, how can it still be boring? But that’s exactly the problem. With shiny brand-names screaming at you from every corner, there is no relief to be found. Shopping in such an environment quickly turns one-note, and fatigue sets in.
Part of the problem is the high price of rentals that landlords are all too willing to charge. And the activity of REITs will only contribute to the upwards price pressure. If there is a way to make space for lesser-known brands (not necessarily expensive) and local enterprises (the more distinctly Singaporean, the better) to set up in Orchard Road, it will bring a much-needed contrast to the area.
One way to do this might be themed shopping festivals held on the streets, briefly turning a part of Orchard Road into a mini-Shibuya, for example.
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