Singaporeans still favour in-store buying/dining

COVID-19 has accelerated online shopping and food delivery but statistical evidence points at Singaporeans’ general preference for in-store buying and dining.

November 17, 2020

COVID-19 has accelerated online shopping, food delivery and heightened concerns about the continued relevance of physical stores. However, statistical evidence points at Singaporeans’ general preference for in-store buying and dining. This spells hope for mall landlords in the city-state.

A decline in the proportion of online retail sales and food services post-CB period

Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, concerned consumers in Singapore turned to online shopping and food delivery to reduce outdoor movements. This shift towards online shopping peaked during the Circuit Breaker (CB) period from 7 April to 1 June 2020, when Singapore was in some form of a lockdown.

However, post-CB period, the percentage of online retail sales fell sharply, from a peak of 24.9% in May 2020, to a monthly average of 10.9% in 3Q20. The online retail sales proportion of Furniture & Household Equipment declined the steepest, from its peak of 93.6% in May 2020, to a monthly average of 23.4% in 3Q20.

The food and beverage (F&B) industry is also experiencing a similar return to in-store dining. The online percentage of F&B sales fell from a peak of 44.6% in May 2020, to a monthly average of 20.7% in 3Q20.

These trends signal that Singaporean consumers still prefer dining out over food delivery. They choose to shop in physical stores over online platforms where they have the opportunity to touch and feel the products before finalising the purchase. 

Figure 1: Retail Sale and Food Services online proportion

Source: Department of Statistics, Singapore

Increasing mall footfall and tenants’ sales Post-CB Period

The reopening of the Singaporean economy post-CB led to people flocking outside their residences, with malls being a popular choice. As a result, several retail REITs announced an increase in foot traffic in their malls.

According to CapitaLand Mall Trust, their overall portfolio of foot traffic and tenants’ sales, per square foot, per month, for 3Q20, recovered to about 60% and 89% of 2019’s levels, respectively. Suburban malls are outperforming with tenants’ sales recovering to around 97% of the level recorded a year ago.

Similarly, by 3Q20, the foot traffic in malls owned by Frasers Centrepoint Trust returned to about 60-70% of the previous year’s levels. 

These recoveries, amid the ongoing operational-capacity limit in observance of safe-distancing measures, further signal Singaporean consumers’ general preference for shopping in physical retail stores and dining in restaurants.

Channelling money from overseas travel to domestic spending

It is no secret that Singaporeans love to travel. Based on statistics by the World Tourism Organisation, Singaporeans spent approximately USD 26.6 billion on outbound travel expenditures in 2019, a 42% increase since the beginning of the decade.

However, with travel restrictions in place, some of the money reserved for overseas travel will be channelled towards retail spending. So far, the fine-dining market has benefitted from this shift in consumer spending.

Singaporeans’ have a penchant for visiting malls to escape the heat and socialising over meals with friends and families in air-conditioned comfort. There is an opportunity for mall landlords to leverage these consumer spending habits and capitalise on their preference for in-store shopping and dining. To maintain mall relevance, landlords could create spaces in malls that allow people to connect and linger, while retailers should keep up with changing trends that continue to attract footfall and sales.