Brick-and-mortar shops reported steady sales as shoppers streamed in for Black Friday in the last weekend of November. The annual American shopping event has rooted itself here as retailers seek to combat competition from online alternatives. The ringing registers were a rare bright spark in the gloomy retail scene, which last week saw the abrupt exit of another major chain. Hong Kong cosmetics retailer Sasa announced the closure of all its 22 outlets here, affecting some 170 workers and taking fans by surprise.

There are lessons to be drawn from recent shopping trends. It is not economically sustainable for brick-and-mortar shops to rely on single annual shopping events and deep discounts to attract shoppers. But retailers do have an edge over online merchants: they offer experiences that the latter cannot match. Disappointed Sasa fans said they frequented the shops because they could sample wares before purchase. Beyond offering buyers the chance to see and touch products, retailers also need to look hard at what they stock. Conscious rather than conspicuous consumption is the buzzword now. But just because shoppers have become more discerning does not mean they have stopped buying. At the recent biannual Boutiques Fair shopping event, there were shoppers galore toting purchases from multiple vendors. The key there was a careful curation of wares, which had a distinct Singaporean design focus across everything from fashion and jewellery to collectables and food. No mass market labels but plenty of niche offerings that appealed to a wide demographic of shoppers. Savvy Singaporeans are beginning to realise there are pitfalls to online shopping, ranging from the difficulty of returns to the dodgy quality of some touted wares. Smart retailers who want to maintain a brick-and-mortar shopfront will realise that the boutique experience can trump digital.

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