The future of retail space in Singapore

February 12, 2016 / By  

Just recently, the topic of The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industrial 4.0) triggered my imagination about Singapore’s future retail space – as one where brick merges with digital.

What does this mean? Well, the concept of Industrial 4.0, to my understanding, is the fusion of technologies that erases the line separating the physical and digital spaces. It has brought about revolutionary changes to traditional work processes across almost every industry. In the context of Singapore, its impact on the retail sector, however, seems less significant thus far. While e-commerce has been expanding in Singapore over the last few years, its integration with physical brick and mortar retail is still quite remote.

In the case of landlords, digital technology has been largely applied to providing the retailers’ information via their website and digital screens placed in the malls. As for retailers, the use of digital media to showcase products and store location is the norm. Not many landlords and retailers, however have expanded the level of online information to their physical store. For example, while it is common for consumers to browse an online retailers’ catalogue on their website, the same cannot be said about a physical retail store. It doesn’t take a lot for a brick and mortar retailer to provide an online catalogue of their physical products to shoppers when they enter their shop.

Physical retail spaces could eventually provide shoppers with a comparable level of information, search-ability and integrated delivery service as their online counterparts. I believe the next phase of Industrial 4.0 could see physical retailers providing real time retail information on their stock and prices directly on a digital platform accessible and search-able by the shoppers to the mall. In the foreseeable future, it should be possible to locate using the mobile phone or other personal devices, a particular product within the mall without physically visiting each store to uncover their merchandises as we do now. Free home delivery could be the norm as each mall would be equipped with a centralised logistic service provider who would deliver all your separate purchases within the mall, directly to your home in one single trip.

Equally, the concern that online could replace physical retail space has been misplaced. To the contrary, physical retail spaces will still be relevant – as an important avenue to showcase products and for consumers to enjoy quality services. Also, it could become increasingly important as a social gathering spot for providing shared experiences among friends. Online interest groups would meet up in these physical malls for special events and social interaction. Friends would spend more time in the mall attending enrichment social programmes besides entertainment and food.

In a few years’ time, malls in Singapore may become lifestyle and entertainment centres offering highly convenient shopping amenities, a place for social activities and visual pleasures with the support of technology and digital retail spaces. This will help the Singapore retail sector retain its competitiveness and attractiveness in the region.

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