“Life for Singaporeans is not complete without shopping!”
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, National Day Rally Speech, 1996
Within a matter of decades, Singapore was catapulted from a tranquil fishing village to a leading global metropolis. Since their political independence in 1965, the People Action Plan (PAP) has moved the country from a labour-intensive industrialisation to an increasingly service-based economy, whilst constantly upgrading their workforce skill level and national education (Chua, 2003). The continuous expansion of wages and allows for a higher proportion of disposable income to be spent on the two things Singaporeans enjoy the most: food and shopping.
Consumers are ‘socially produced’, meaning individuals are socially transformed into consumers. Similar to etiquette and speech, the ways in which we shop are intrinsically taught through behavioural patterns. Chua (2003) has detailed that the natural need to consume serves as an alibi to purchase goods, if such alibi is even necessary. Individuals are either willingly or unwittingly partaking in the ceaseless cash flow cycle, whereby to consume is to be part of society. Consequently, shoppers breed and influence more shoppers. To further elaborate that consumers are socially produced and socially sustain is to argue that the ‘needs’ are themselves embedded into the social-cultural ‘matrix’ of consumption (Featherstone, 1987). Singapore has converted itself to become one continuous shopping centre, with various price points and products to entice customers of all context.
The 1990 national census showed that television-watching consume the largest proportion of leisure time and ‘window-shopping’ ranked as the number one activity conducted away from home (Ho and Chua, 1995). ‘Window-shopping’ or shopping in general has become more of a leisurely activity rather than serving a functional purpose of buying goods. This form of leisure has become a socially acceptable activity to connect with friends and family whilst also getting a glimpse as to what is trending.
Image: Shops open late along Orchard Road 2.2km of retail strip.
Whilst immersed in the high rises and luxury stores in the shopping district of Orchard Road, The New York Times (2015) has managed to capture the abundant, successful notion of consumerism. From the point of view of a pedestrian, the streets are teeming with potential shoppers and a mixed array of International and Asian labels. While talking to a local, she quotes “Orchard Road is a place where friends and family meet and shop, and it’s always busting with people almost every day”. In particular, Orchard Road boasts exclusive high-end boutiques that forge relationships with their customers and therefore becoming repeat clients. As Chua (2003) has discovered, there are different modes to become a fashion consumer.
The Inadvertent Browser
This individual has leisurely browsed the windows and strolled into the store on a whim. By looking at the price tag, it is evident that this person has come into the store by mistake and does not touch anything else. Having realised the mistake, the individual then proceeds to retreat out of the store with haste. If approached by a sales assistant, they deftly respond with a “just browsing, thank you” and continue out of the store.
The Intimidated Browser
Any gestures on the browser’s part, such as touching an item, evokes the sales person to pressure them to try on the garment. In the well-lit fitting rooms, the attentiveness of the sales person is heightened, from adjusting the clothes for a better fit or giving fashion commentary to promote transaction. Once engaged with the retail assistant, the browser does not want to be looked down upon for being unable to purchase the item or wasting the sale’s person time. The browser is then obliged to put on a ‘face’. The strategy of using fashion vocabulary (e.g. fit, colour, form, texture) to extrapolate faults in the garment is a subtle way of curbing the sale without giving insight onto one’s ability to purchase.
From Browsing to Trying-On
If the browser has agreed to try on an outfit, the sales representative’s role of intimidation becomes a voice of reasoning from a significant other. The sale person’s comment is influential in finalising a decision. There is a whole area on the social psychology of fashion, from the semiotics of garments to cultural influence on style that can determine whether or not a browser would agree to make a purchase.
Stores are a place for people to get clothes that fit a self-image and the appropriateness of a situation in which it might be worn. To experiment with physical attributes, an individual can play with (i) the body and its gesture, or (ii) adornment through clothes, accessories and cosmetics.
Although Singapore started from humble beginnings, their current megapolis standings means that they will forevermore be a nation of consumerism. Singapore is globally known for their food and shopping, flaunting a place for gluttony and excess of the luxurious kind.
Chua, B. 2003, Life is Not Complete Without Shopping: Consumption Culture in Singapore. Singapore, NUS Publishing.
Featherstone, M. 1987, Lifestyles and Consumer Culture, London, Sage Publishing.
The New York Times 2015, Street Fashion in Orchard Road, Singapore | Intersection, video recording, YouTube, viewed 10 Jan 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb6xzuLASkw>
Ho, K. and Chua, B. 1995. Cultural, social, and leisure activities in Singapore. Singapore: Dept. of Statistics, Ministry of Trade & Industry, Republic of Singapore
Zlatina, J. 2016, Orchard Road, La Elegantia, viewed 15 Jan 2018, <https://laelegantia.com/2016/01/11/the-top-6-things-to-see-in-singapore/orchard-road/>
Ramada Singapore 2013, Orchard Road, Ramada Singapore at Zhongshan Park, viewed 15 Jan 2018, <http://www.ramadasingapore.com/things-to-do/orchard-road.aspx>