For years now, online shopping has grown from nibbling on the pie that is the shopper’s wallet to biting off a huge chunk for itself. It has loomed large over the existence of physical stores while becoming the elixir for businesses powered by everything from cloud computing, to crowd sourcing.
Yet far from acquiescing to the death knell for brick and mortar retail, mall operators are evolving to create experiences that no digital platform can. For Yeo Mui Hong, CEO of Orchard Turn Developments which manages ION Orchard, that comes in the form of dreaming up initiatives from co-creating exclusive experiences with tenants to providing lifestyle spaces that offer art and even a slice of history.
The shopping mall whose eight floors of offerings are targeted at the luxury spender and the mass affluent is home to a slew of tenants from sky high dining to a gallery space.
The aim: To win over hearts and minds. But will it win over wallets?
We sit down for a chat with the head honcho as she takes us through the current landscape and her views on the future of retail.
What do you think is the ground sentiment of physical retail?
It’s quite a cyclical business. There are challenges but that also produces opportunities. There’s a major shift in the retail landscape in the last five years with the popularity of e-commerce. Shoppers don’t have to visit a store if they can buy something online. So retailers can’t operate the way they used to. It’s no longer a place for buy-sell transactions. You need to offer an engaging experience for them to keep coming back.
What about customers? What do you feel is their sentiment?
Nowadays shoppers are getting increasingly savvy so they’re always on social media, even if they’re physically in the store or the mall. So we [can] leverage on social media to reach out to them. Take for instance our Black Friday sales last year. We promoted exclusive offers from beauty to fashion to dining on Facebook and Instagram. The shoppers have to come into the store, flash it and enjoy these offers. We need to embrace online and offline. That meeting is the future of retail.
Do you ever feel like it’s a battle between the physical and digital? Because the pie is only so big and there are so many players wanting a piece of it?
To me it isn’t a battle. It’s about co-existing. Retailers and mall operators have to constantly relook [offerings] to meet the evolving landscape.
How does a luxury shopping mall like ION orchard have an edge in this instance?
For ION Orchard, being located at the heart of Orchard Road and connected to one of the busiest MRT stations and spanning over 8 floors — four floors above ground which houses the luxury brands and four floors underground that houses the high street labels — we enjoy the advantages of the location.
We try to go beyond [being] just a retail mall, we are a retail lifestyle destination so we curate different experiences like in-mall activations and hold engaging activities like [having] a butterfly dome, live bird shows and dance performances. These are aimed at keeping shoppers coming back.
We also have two signature lifestyle venues: Ion Art and Ion Sky. Ion Art focuses on exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. We do exhibitions so visitors can survey a diverse range from visual to digital arts. One of our art initiatives is a young talent program which we hold every year. This is a special program to promote the creative artworks of young, budding artists from Singapore and the region.
Ion Sky, at 218 metres, is the highest point along Orchard Road. In late 2017, we revamped the space and incorporated a light show that depict the history of the area. This is actually our signature show. We do refresh our light shows with seasonal content like Chinese New Year or Christmas.
What about F&B? Because it’s definitely not something you can experience online.
We do look out for unique concepts. For instance, Violet Oon. When we invited them to open, we specially asked them to create an all-day dining experience which is something that can’t be found in their current locations. This will give an edge for consumers to come and experience their new menu.
We also have a yearly campaign where we work with our F&B tenants to create special dishes. They may be chain stores, but they’ll have something exclusive for us.
For instance, two years ago TWG developed a special tea blend that’s exclusive to ION Orchard which you can only find here, not elsewhere. Even recently, Jumbo Seafood created a special menu — an executive lunch set where you can have their signature chilli crab without getting dirty. It’s been de-shelled. So all this enhances the experience for the shopper.
What do you think is the future of retail?
I don’t profess to be an authority to speak of the future of retail, but as a mall operator, everything from marketing campaigns, our loyalty programs and customer service needs to come together. Retail has to be an integration not just on shopping but also dining and entertainment under one roof.
Most importantly, we need to stay relevant and understand our target audience. If we know what they want, we can give them what they want.