Singapore is a shopping paradise. With a major shopping mall in almost every 5 km, probably the most staggering feat in the world, Singapore shopping has never been so easy and convenient.
Besides going for movies and eating, the abundance of more than a hundred shopping malls cultivate shopping as a favourite past-time for Singaporeans, some called it Retail Therapy- shopping has become a habit to de-stress after a day of hardwork.
1. Orchard Road
Visited daily by thousands of tourists and locals, the world renowned Orchard Road is one attraction no tourist should miss. However limited time you are left with, there is no excuse for not coming here for at least an hour.
Orchard Road, sitting on one of Singapore’s most expensive piece of land, is a 2.3 km long retail and entertainment belt with dozens of shopping malls lining up the streets with upmarket boutiques, cafes, restaurants, theatres and posh hotels, very similar to Times Square or Fifth Ave in New York, America. It showcases the world top brands and most fashionable, most of which are not featured in the heartland shopping malls. Most shoppers are here for 4-6 hours of crazy shopping!
What gives Orchard Road its distinct identity in recent years is its transfix architectural design, besides offering top brands.
Most stores are opened from 10am-10pm daily. The best time to shop is in the day, or rather before 5pm from Mon-Fri, that’s the non-peak hours, during this period, you can expect exceptional personalized service from most stores.
After that period, the locals and tourists would start storming the shopping belt. Weekend and Sunday is not recommended for tourists, unless you feel good and enjoy bashing through the shops with the locals.
Over the years, Orchard Road has been regarded as a brand. Buy anything here or tell people you’re here today, it would give the impression that you’re a ‘rich man’, trendy and street-wise.
The same product bought in Orchard Road and elsewhere just do not command the same status. The ‘feel-good’ illusion certainly draws crowd to this shopping paradise. Come to Singapore but fail to visit Orchard Road and you probably need to seek some mental help.
If shopping is not your cup of tea, certainly eating is. Takashimaya, besides showcasing the global fashion, has a food outlet uniquely theirs. The availability of dozens of stalls offering both local and international snacks, many of which are beautifully packaged as a gift or souvenirs specially for the tourists. The place, however, is not solely designed for the tourists, it is a local best-loved hangout for handpicked food, many of which would just hang around the area tasting food from stalls to stalls.
Get to Takashimaya Event Hall ( above picture)at its basement, this is a must-see place for shoppers. This is the way the mall distinguishes itself from neighbours through these requently held promotions and activities. Value for money or not, the crowd certainly tells you the answer.
Lucky Plaza is another place famous for its wide variety of digital and IT products. In recent years it has also become a hangout for the many domestic and foreign workers especially the Filipinos. If you had missed out getting some uniquely Singapore’s souvenirs, there are few shops here for your final shopping spree. I made a comparison on its price with other places selling identical things and found that for those I have seen, the price is not inflated just because they are in Orchard Road, so do not worry.
Orchard Road, being the main shopping area in Singapore for both tourists and locals, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) regularly lends its weight on it. Every few years, millions of dollars are spent on promotions and campaigns, unleashed to generate new excitement. Currently, on the first Saturday of each month, road closure is imposed around Orchard Road, shoppers are free to walk all over the place. The new rule generates much excitement.
For tourists, the best time to visit is between late May to July, when the Great Singapore Sale (GSS), the biggest promotion campaign for Orchard Road is rolled out. During this limited time period, most stores offer great discounts, it’s a good time to get things at value for money, which is why it is a much anticipated campaign even by the locals.
Another good time to visit Orchard Road is during Christmas period, between November and December. Next is January and February, for Chinese New Year. During these two biggest festive season in Singapore, the whole stretch of shopping malls are donned with Christmas decorations. Suddenly an enchanting winter wonderland has magically arrived in tropical Singapore.
Come, see and watch the many mass caroling events and performances lining up the streets, witness the big malls vying for the Best Dressed Building honour of the year. No admission tickets are needed. Every year, thousands of tourists are attracted by the event. It’s not just a time to buy and give, it’s a luxury indulgence.
Look, Christmas has come to Orchard Road!
2. Bugis Street
10 minutes away from Orchard Road comes another shopping haven, Bugis Street, unique and distinct from Orchard Road. Bugis Street offers you things you can’t find in Orchard Road. It does not feature as many upmarket brands as in Orchard Road, but focusing more on everyday fashion for the trendy and youngsters especially. Everyday, the street is congested with shoppers looking for something to unleash their fat purse strings.
Get onto the streets and find yourself being stormed with thousands of goods and products not seen elsewhere in Singapore.
Tourists simply love this place, it is a souvenir- shopping haven, besides Chinatown. The good thing about Bugis Street is that products are made affordable, for an average of S$10.00, you could get a very fashionable and good quality shirt. Get a local snack for a mere S$1.00 and bite all the way in the street shopping.
Going around on a trishaw ride is another way of seeing Bugis Street from another perspective. For a mere S$39.00, it brings you an entertaining ride all the way down the streets, with lots of laughter and clicks of your camera.
Anyone who sees a crowd like this knows that he makes the right decision and is in the right place.
3. IT Gadgets & Electronic products
Singapore is one of the pioneer in embracing the digital future since mid 1980’s. The common use of IT & Digital products in Singapore is prevalent especially in the office, homes, restaurants, cafés and MRT trains. Singaporeans are crazy about all things on IT. So where do they go to shop for them?
Two malls stands out in the competitive market, one is Sim Lim Square and the other is Funan Digital Mall. These 2 malls specializes in gadgets or computer related components, and is a favourite shopping haven not just for the tourist, but local as well. The availability of hundreds of stores selling identical products makes price comparison never been easier. As prices are so competitive between stores, they are more likely to to give a discount upon request.
Sim Lim Square is the best of the two, I mean in terms of prices, but in recent years some shop owners were blacklisted for overcharging customers, shaving off its good reputation. But if you know the product well, the place is a playground for IT lovers.
For Funan Digital Mall, product varieties are not as wide as in Sim Lim Square, prices are slightly higher, but consumer pays more for some peace of mind. Personally, I run between the 2 malls for all my play toys.
** Funan Digital Mall has since closed on 30 July 2016 for redevelopment into a ‘creative hub’, it will only open 3 years later.
If time permits, it is even better to come in either March, June, Sept or Dec, these are the months where the largest IT Show in Singapore is held and when IT lovers go crazy over the heavily discounted price. The 4 days event easily attracts half a million people. The event is usually held on the 1st week of that particular month and lasts from Thursday to Sunday, 12pm to 9pm.
If you miss the event, don’t worry , there is always another one at Changi Expo Hall. Prices at the event is just as attractive as the IT Show, except that the scale of event is not as gigantic as the latter. The Changi Expo Hall usually has 2 weekends featuring IT & Electronics sale and is heavily advertised on the main local newspaper, The Straits Times.
Be it Singapore or elsewhere, regardless whether the shopper is a local or tourist, the rules of shopping never differs, following are words of reminders:
1. Always do some research on the product first, do not be easily swayed by what the salesmen say.
2. A shopper might be loaded with cash ready to unleash, but never allow the salesman to know your financial budget. You might ended up getting a recommended product which doesn’t meet your needs or ended buying more than what you intended initially.
3. Is the shop a Tax Refund Scheme participating outlet? (Read on for more info on Tax Refund).
4. Is the product an export set? These are usually less expensive, but may have compliance issue with your home country.
5. Check with the seller does the product comes with a free local or international warranty.
6. Are there any freebies or accessories that come with it?
7. Is the price quote inclusive of the 7% GST?
8. Are there any extra charges for paying through credit card, as some prices quoted are for cash payment only. To pay through credit card, another 5-7% is imposed as administrative fee.
9. Never commit to buying easily, there are many identical shops around- do some price comparison.
10. One major thing I’ve learnt as a local as well as a tourist: Shopping is a relaxation and luxury enjoyment, regardless of how much you intend to spend, never even enter a shop if you are in a hurry, that’s when rash decisions are made. Always remember, there’s always another better deal elsewhere even if you miss this.
IT and Electronics Superstores
If you do not like entering into a standalone shop, find the staff too aggressive, or is afraid to be pestered by the sales staff or promoters, Singapore has few big retail outlets for your patronage.
Challenger, is the biggest IT and digital products retailers in Singapore. Challenger has more than 40 stores all over the island, especially in shopping malls. But its biggest flagship store is in Funan Digital Mall, with a coverage size of almost a football field. It’s popularity is demonstrated in its membership strength of more than 500,000, including foreigners and locals, that’s an amazing feat, considering Singapore only has a population of about 3.5 million, excluding foreigners. Don’t worry, shoppers need not necessarily need to join as a member to start the shopping spree, but members enjoy more discounts and privileges.
Besides, there are Best and Courts. These are the major electronics retailers who makes their presence felt with multiple branches available in major shopping malls for IT & Digital products lovers.
So what’s so good about shopping in these superstores?
1. Staff are adamant to sell, but are not as aggressive as in individual shops. These superstores operate in a way unlike the individual shops. Shoppers are free to walk around and are encouraged to touch and play with the gadgets. The staff and promoters usually do not come forward to the shopper until being approached.
2. As they are big superstores with branches all over the island, the price quotes are very competitive.
3. The prices are displayed clearly on the product itself, exactly like what you see in the supermarket, so ‘what you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG). Most products come with a brief product description or specification for your easy reference.
4. They rarely enter into any price negotiation or bargain, as the price quotes are very competitive, but consumers can always ask for some freebies, (SD card, extra battery, RAM upgrade, etc) which they usually oblige.
5. They are very aggressive in doing promotions to outdo each other, which are usually advertised on Saturday in major local newspaper, The Straits Times. So, take advantage of their promotions.
4. GST Refund ( VAT Refund)
The best part about being a tourist is the excitement of enjoying a privilege which the local could not, that is GST (Goods & Services Tax)Refund Scheme, which is also known as VAT (Value Added Tax) in some countries. Which means the product actually cost less than what one initially paid for. I love that tax refund scheme especially in countries which imposed 10% charge or more on products, that means I get a 10% further discount right? Wow, that’s great!
In Singapore, the current GST is 7%. But beware, to qualify for the refund, tourist in Singapore needs buy goods in Singapore only from retailers who operate the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS), usually an adult palm-size sticker pasted prominently at the front or side of the shop, as seen from the following logo:
The amount spend must be a minimum of SGD$100.00, including GST. Tourists are allowed to accumulate up to 3 receipts of the same day purchase from the retailers of the same GST registration number.
Generally, to enjoy your happy shopping, first check with the retailers if they participate in the scheme. Secondly, make your purchase. Thereafter, request the retailer to register the GST refund for you. It is a must to have your passport with you, so as to enable the retailers to verify that you are a tourist and fill in the form for you. The retailers would not entertain customers who comes with no passport or with a photocopy of it. Thereafter, keep the form and receipt safely. When departing from Singapore, proceed to the GST refund counter at Changi Airport, Seletar Airport or International Harbourfront Centre with the receipt and form to make the claim.
The Departure Hall.
At Changi Airport you could submit the claim to the GST Refund counter located at the Departure Hall before you even check-in for your plane, or should you miss that… can’t be, because the GST Refund Counter is damn huge… you can still get it done in the hall after you clear immigration, but before boarding the plane.
Do note the actual claim might be lesser than the 7% GST imposed due to some administration charges.
For updated information and details on GST Refund, visit the website http://www.iras.gov.sg/irashome/gst-TRS.aspx
Let the MRT train speeds you to the Singapore shopping paradise. Getting to the above attractions is made easier through various MRT trains:
1. Orchard Road has 2 train stations, Orchard Road and Somerset stations.
2. Bugis Street and Sim Lim Square can be reached through Bugis MRT station.
3. Funan Digital Mall is easily accessible by City Hall station.