Shopping in Singapore is an experience like no other, and it can be heaven or hell, depending on your point of view; what can’t be denied is the sheer variety that it provides. From the world’s leading international brands to indie designers and retailers, from luxury showrooms to backstreet workshops, the breadth of retail opportunities means that all of your needs, tastes, whims and desires can be satisfied by Singapore.
While popular wisdom says that in London you’re never more than five feet away from a rat, it’s exaggerating only slightly to say that in Singapore you’re never more than five feet away from a mall. Every neighbourhood will have several, while the city’s major shopping streets are literally lined with them. They vary in style and character of course, and some are more upmarket and remarkable than others, but mall shopping is undoubtedly a fundamental and inescapable part of Singaporean life.
Some Singaporean malls are truly spectacular, almost self-contained micro-cities in which you can take care of just about every aspect of life: visit the GP, see the dentist, pay your bills, get housing advice, visit the library, drop the kids off at a music lesson and have a spa, all under one roof. Others are more inclined to specialisms, with a focus on a particular type of product or store, although these too will nevertheless offer a range of shopping.
What they almost all have in common is food, and this is where Singapore’s malls are at their most surprising. In most western countries, you mightn’t necessarily set great store by a restaurant or food stall that you come across in a shopping mall, but this is certainly not the case in Singapore. Many very good restaurants can be found in shopping centres, even local, suburban ones, while the ubiquitous food court is a very different proposition than it might be elsewhere. The Singapore food court is a direct descendant of the hawker centre and so you should never be surprised to find top quality fare in a mall, no matter where on the island it is.
However, shopping in Singapore is not just about malls—far from it, in fact. There are thriving pockets of commerce all over the city, and old neighbourhoods with workshops where products have been made and sold for generations. In addition, many of those old neighbourhoods have had new life breathed into them by an up-and-coming generation of entrepreneurs, who are taking the old shophouses and go-downs and sensitively transforming them into workshops, galleries, bars and restaurants. These are some of the coolest, hippest stores in town and those with an interest in artisan crafts and design, or galleries and art, will enjoy wandering through them, both for what’s inside and for the ambience and atmosphere they create.
You can find everything you have ever wanted in Singapore (as well as many things you never knew you wanted), but there are certain goods and products that the city’s multitude of retailers can supply at a price and of a quality that you won’t find elsewhere.
Electronic goods and computers, for instance, is an area in which Singapore is able to offer consumers good quality at prices lower than you would pay in Europe, the US or most western countries (although not necessarily less than you might in other parts of Asia). It’s also often possible to find the latest gadgets here before they’re on the shelves in other parts of the world.
Singapore also does a very good line in watches, with enormous variety at relatively good prices, and genuinely top-quality watches both new and second-hand are found all over the city. Good places to start include Passions Watch Exchange (#02-20 / 21 / 22 Funan Digitalife Mall), Watch Link (#03 – 79 Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Road), Watch Arena (290 Balestier Road) and Cortina Watch Espace (#B2-39/39A The Shoppes at Marina Bay).
High-quality gold and jewelry are also in abundance, and Singapore’s goldsmiths have a fine reputation for the quality of their workmanship and their reasonable prices. If you’re looking for custom-made jewelry in particular, you will be able to get pieces made in Singapore that are the equal of anything produced elsewhere. However, if you’re looking to make a significant jewelry purchase, make sure you do so from a store that displays the QJS symbol (Quality Jewelers of Singapore).
You can try, for instance, TianPo (#02-32 Holland Road Shopping Centre, 211 Holland Avenue), Lee Hwa Jewellery (ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn), Meyson Jewellery (#01-26 Bugis Junction, 200 Victoria Street) or Soo Kee (#01-183 Vivo City, 1 Harbourfront Walk) as good places to start.
For business people and professionals, Singapore is also home to an array of high quality tailors who produce business suits and clothes for formal occasions to impeccable standards, but at prices that are much more reasonable than you might pay in London or New York. Again, although not as cheap as in other Asian countries, the quality of bespoke tailoring in Singapore is first-rate, and on a par with what you would find anywhere else in Europe or the US.
Singapore also has an outstanding range and variety of quality fabrics from China, other parts of Asia, and the rest of the world, found at a host of dedicated shops throughout the city, especially in Arab Street, Little India and Chinatown.
If you enjoy collecting art and antiques, then Singapore will also have much to offer. Singapore’s history of colonisation and immigration, and its role for hundreds of years as a trading port, has meant that people and their treasures from all over the world have come through or settled here, and the tradition of antique trading continues to be strong. The range of Asian artefacts is naturally extensive, but there are many places where high-quality European artworks, antiques and furniture can be also be purchased.
However, it is in the realm of international fashion and footwear brands that Singapore can leave you breathless. Everyone you’ve ever heard of is here, and you can buy quality fashion, designer clothes and accessories just about everywhere. The truly flagship brands tend to congregate together in the high-end malls, particularly those on Orchard Road and at Marina Bay Sands, but the sheer breadth of top-class fashion and designer labels right across the city is staggering. As well as the international icons, Singapore is also home to the work of many indie, alternative designers, many of whom are local, and some of these can be as sought-after by Singaporean fashionistas as the more mainstream labels.
But even if flashy labels aren’t your thing, there is an abundance of good quality fashion and clothing for those who want to dress well, irrespective of the name or maker. If you need well-made but affordable clothing, it is hard to do better than Singapore.
When dealing with most retailers in Singapore, there aren’t too many dubious practices to be wary of and shopping is usually a hassle-free experience, especially when compared to many other cities in south-east Asia. However, if you are going off-piste and dealing with smaller shops or suppliers, it is just as well to be aware of a couple of points that will ensure that you get what you pay for, although real scoundrels are thankfully few and far between.
The parallel product scam is when a shop owner gives you a good price on a product, only to ‘discover’ that it’s out of stock. You’re then offered another product that is supposed to be almost identical to the one you wanted, but will inevitably be inferior, and so the price you originally agreed is no longer as good as it might have been. Therefore, know what you are looking for and if it’s not in stock at one particular store, move on. You are very likely to find it elsewhere.
Always check that any purchases you make come in the correct and original packaging, and always ask for a receipt. If you pay by credit card, check that there are no surcharges that have been added as this is not permitted.
Discover more about the hottest shopping districts and stores in Singapore on our Listly list