At Marina Square mall, The Maternity House has not made any sale for four days in a row.
The store selling maternity wear, which has been a tenant there for more than 15 years, is not the only one bemoaning the sluggish business at the once-bustling downtown mall, which was in the news more than three years ago for having a rodent problem.
Other shopkeepers such as MaxCoil Bedding Gallery also told TODAY that they have gone several days without closing a deal, and that their sales revenues have plummeted.
Retail experts attributed the poor business at Marina Square to its stable of shops comprising many of the same long-standing tenants, and stiff competition from neighbouring shopping complexes.
A long-time employee of The Maternity House, who did not want to be identified, said that sales have been falling year after year, and on one occasion, there was not a single sale for four consecutive days.
“You can play bowling outside (along the corridors),” the 43-year-old quipped, referring to the near-empty corridors in front of the store. “You’ll have to pray… every day that there’ll be somebody who comes into the shop.”
She blamed the slower business on the rat problems that struck the mall in 2015, as well as the departure of major tenants such as cinema operator Golden Village and bowling alley SuperBowl the year before.
In January 2015, a rat was found in a tray of vegetables at Hotpot Culture, a restaurant in the mall. The authorities later detected rodent activity in the false ceilings of 14 of the mall’s food-and-beverage (F&B) establishments, and at a bin centre.
The mall was also embroiled in at least two lawsuits with ex-tenants, who claimed they faced similar pest problems.
Over at another store, Ergoworks, which sells ergonomic products such as office chairs and accessories, a manager who declined to be named said that sales revenue has dropped since 2016, by 20 per cent every year.
Each weekday, there are about five to seven walk-in customers, with the figure rising to more than 20 on weekends, the 39-year-old said.
To woo customers, his shop offers promotions such as bundle deals. He also urged the mall to lower rental charges and provide cheaper roadshow spaces within its premises for shops to carry out promotional activities.
F&B outlets also appear to be struggling. At Hifumi Japanese Restaurant, its manager, who goes by the name of Ahtaw, 35, said that its takings have dipped by between S$3,000 and S$4,000 a month since last year.
However, Shang Pin Hot Pot’s marketing manager May Yin, 28, noted that the number of shoppers goes up when events are held in the mall, and the eatery has attracted “new customers” since it opened in April.
When TODAY visited Marina Square around 1pm on Tuesday (Sept 18), vegetarian restaurant Green Ba, which opened in June, had only three of its 24 tables occupied. The Manhattan Fish Market, which seats 120, was also largely empty, with only five people inside.
Responding to TODAY’s queries, mall operator Marina Centre Holdings said that from 2016 to now, tenant sales have grown by 14 per cent and mall traffic by 8 per cent.
As for its occupancy rate, more than 90 per cent of its shop spaces are occupied, “which is in line with the market rate”, it added.
Addressing its tenants’ concerns about slow business, its spokesperson said that the mall runs promotions and activities at its atrium level to draw shoppers and increase sales, and holds different fairs and activities at its atrium every weekend.
To give tenants more exposure, the mall helps them with their thematic merchandise displays, for instance. It also features its tenants’ offerings on its mobile application, website and social media channels, and it hired a team to engage its followers on Instagram and Facebook.
“We are working to launch an enhanced app with more perks and rewards for shoppers at the end of the year,” the spokesperson said.
MORE UNIQUE OFFERINGS
While the mall operator may have its arrangements and plans, the employee at The Maternity House said that there could be more entertainment options, including having a cinema. The Ergoworks manager would like to see more fast-food outlets, saying that crowds diminished after the departure of chains such as KFC and Long John Silver’s.
Company manager John Tan, 42, who goes to Marina Square weekly, suggested having a wider variety of food options.
Sales engineer Eric Tan, 38, who heads there once a month, said that customers may be drawn by offerings not available elsewhere, such as themed cafes. It could also make the mall environment more “attractive” to the younger crowd, who enjoy posting pictures on their Instagram accounts.
Business analyst Nai Iyn Yi, 26, wanted more blogshop retailers offering “clothes you can’t find anywhere else”.
Retail experts agreed that Marina Square could have gone further in its efforts to differentiate itself, even as it made a “conscious effort” to do this by introducing Emporium Shokuhin — a Japanese emporium — in 2015.
Ms Felicia Wee, section head for the diploma course in retail management at Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Business, said that the mall “did not follow through with thematic events which could have carved a niche for them in Japanese food and offerings”.
Dr Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that many of the mall’s shops have been there for a long time. While this helps build a loyal customer base, “some shoppers may not find it attractive since it is the ‘same-old, same-old’,” he added.
New brands, especially those not available in other shopping centres, or businesses such as cinemas and spas, may jazz up the mix, he suggested.
This is especially so since it faces fierce competition from nearby malls such as Raffles City Shopping Centre and Suntec City.
Ms Christine Yong, deputy manager of Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management, said that Suntec City, for instance, is “a bigger mall… with a wider variety of choices”.
Ms Wee said that Marina Square’s operator should consider working with tenants and partners to infuse experiential activities in the stores or as part of the mall’s promotional exercises, in order to establish this as “a mainstay” and shoppers will then “instinctively associate fun and exciting activities with the mall”.
Marina Centre Holdings said that it is in the process of transforming and differentiating itself from “the usual cookie-cutter malls by launching new experiential concepts”.
It is in talks with various partners to plan more hands-on activity-based concepts, and details will be announced once ready.
Work will continue with its tenants, to bank on festivals, events and trends to push sales, its spokesperson said.
These efforts aside, the tide of online shopping cannot be ignored.
Ms Wee said that malls should leverage e-commerce and the opportunities it provides.
“With the popularity of online shopping, malls need to evolve physically and technologically to support direct-to-consumer distribution,” she added.
Source: Today – 19 Sep 2018