Thursday, August 17, 2006

Retail therapy? Try aggravated retail assault

I'm not a big fan of shopping… yes I know, seize my green card and march me to the airport I have no right to be in Singapore - thankfully the other national obsession is food and I am very much a fan of food. So I guess that means I can stay.

But back to the shopping. If I ever have to confront the chaos of Orchard Rd on, God forbid, a Saturday, I find the experience akin to the running of the bulls in Pamplona Spain. You know what I mean, you see the footage every year: white shirted Spaniards (and some very stupid and stoned looking backpackers) with red scarves around their necks, and grins of false bravado hiding true feelings of terror, who bolt through tiny streets being chased by tonnes of angry bull flesh? No-one knows where to run; if you go one way the bulls do too and so you just hope the fat guy at the back distracts the bulls as he falls and goes under their feet, giving you enough time to climb a fence or chose an alternative path. Every year someone gets horrifically crushed, trampled or gored, usually someone dies but it never seems to dampen the Spaniards enthusiasm for the running of the bulls.

This is pretty much how I view Orchard Rd on a Saturday afternoon. Unlike many of the world's other great retails strips where you might have to avoid the occasional begger, or someone dressed as a koala bear collecting for Greenpeace, Orchard Rd throws a three ringed circus of obstacles in your path as you try and go about your own business. If you're me that business is getting in heading straight for where I need to go and then getting the hell out of there.

However on any given Saturday on Orchard Rd if you walk even four blocks you are likely to encounter at least 40 kids collecting for various charities or schools, some guy dressed up in a bizarre outfit (I recently come across a guy dressed as a brain, asking people to take blood clots off him for money), 20 promotions stalls set up trying to get you to sign up to yet another credit card, or a phone plan, gym membership or club and at least two full blown road shows. Lately there has even been some kid who busks with a full drum kit set up on the street, something I have never seen. All of this doesn’t take into account the various other promotions people set up on the footpath randomly to arrest shoppers in their tracks.

There is no where to run as person after person zooms in on you and you change tack to try and get out of their way, but it doesn't matter which way you turn there is someone there waiting with a tin held out or a clipboard with a credit card or phone application form on it.

Let me get to my point. Can there really be any value in these endless promotions stalls set up to try and sign shoppers up, usually to credit cards? The stalls are usually manned by up to seven smartly dressed youths and MC-ed by some sort of artiste or DJ who presumably all have to be paid, there must also be some high costs associated with purchasing and branding the marquee, and I am assuming there is rental on footpath space.

So riddle me this: With all these costs associated with running one of these stalls every Saturday (and remember there is no form of exclusivity as you generally just set up next to another one) how many consumers do you need to not only sign up to your credit card but actually get to start using the card, so you can earn money from the transactions, to make this exercise financially worthwhile? It's not just the costs on the day, there is all that administration of the new customer.

If the costs outstrip the value achieved, which I strongly suspect they do, then why do it? Why not come up with a smarter way that, to use a well worn marketing cliché, cuts through the clutter, rather than just contributes to it.

If you ask me what we need is a running of the bulls down Orchard Rd, that would sure clear the place out!


Chee Huat said...

Retail Insult?

I recall shopping with my sister during the recent Great Singapore Sale at a popular mall at the tail end of Orchard Road. Now my sister is one who would spend a little more just to make it up for the contest opportunity or the free sample. This time, she had to chalk up $$150 to qualify for the contest. After 3 hours, she managed to buy something she might need or use someday from 3 stores in that mall. Happily, we went to the information counter to qualify her for the contest. We were both shocked by the cheapness of this mall.

(1) First, you had to sacrifice your personal details - name, address, I/C number, handphone number, email address, etc. Then you had to throw a ball into any of the small holes on a board behind the information counter to win the Grand Prize of ONE ("not a pair!" the counter lady specified) ticket to watch "Garfield 2" the movie.

Naturally, she missed the goal. She got movie premiums instead; which I am sure cost the mall nothing. They were just schwag produced by the cineplex in that mall to promote the movie.

(2) And because she spent at least S$30, she also got a chance to participate in a contest that might win her a car! The lady at the counter handed her a photocopied slip of paper that detailed how she could call in for the SPH 'Shop-to-Win' contest.

The contest was not even organized by the mall but they had the cheek to hang tent cards proclaiming that you could shop HERE and win a car. Technically correct but...

Lesson learnt? Always read the fine print - which they do display in 6-point and multiple columns on an A3 sheet right in front of the information counter of this said mall.

Seems like the cost of acquisition for a mall to get a mailing list is now close to $0.00. And the price of my sister's privacy is a "Garfield 2" notebook and a headband of 'Garfield ears'.

isis said...

The brain idea is kinda cute.

wondrdoggie said...

Excuse me, "green card" is an informal term refering to the card that permanent residents of the US get. In Singapore, PRs get the light blue identification card.