We’ve just landed at Singapore Changi Airport with a 70-minute delay from Bangkok and we’re running late for our meeting with Orchard Road Business Association.
“Shall I give them a call?” Anouk asks.
“Let’s wait,” I say, “we have an hour to get there and I read that this is the most efficient airport in the world. They say you can be in a taxi on your way to town just 30 minutes after landing, so we could make it.”
Less than 25 minutes later we’re getting into a cab. “Orchard Road please,” I tell the driver.
“Singapore really does live up to its reputation as one of the most efficient countries in the world,” says Anouk. “Now let’s see what Orchard Road has to offer!”
“Everything you could possibly want, by the sounds of it,” I say as I scroll through their website. “Orchard Road is a shopping and lifestyle hub with 800,000 m2 of retail, dining and entertainment, 40 shopping malls, six department stores and 20 international and luxury hotels. It’s consistently voted as one of the top shopping avenues worldwide.”
We’re meeting Mrs. May Sng, the Chairman of Orchard Road Business Association and Executive Director Steven Goh at a café in the Paragon Shopping Centre.
As we order our coffees, Steven tells me about the origin of Orchard Road’s name: “In the 19th century, this road was surrounded by nutmeg and fruit orchards. It was a beautiful sight… Though of course I wasn’t there to see it myself,” he adds with a smile. “Commercial development in this area started in the 20th century and really took off in the 1970s.”
“That’s what we read: Orchard Road is now the most popular shopping district in Singapore,” says Anouk. “How do you manage to stay at the top?”
“We’re very proud of what we have achieved,” says Mrs Sng. “This is one of the most iconic shopping areas in Singapore and the wider region. It is sometimes compared to the Champs Elysées in Paris or Regent Street in London.”
“But this also comes with many challenges,” she adds. “It’s like a funnel: first we have to compete on a global level, and build on Singapore’s reputation as one of the safest places in South-East Asia. Then in the region, people have the choice between Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur… And locally, within Singapore, we compete against the other shopping districts, which offer the same safe environment and similar stores and brands!”
“So how do you set Orchard Road apart from the rest?” I ask.
“We like to think we offer more than just shopping,” says Mrs Sng. “Of course shopping is our prime focus, but I strongly believe that companies, brands and associations should have a purpose, and strive to play a role in people’s lives. We want to be more than just a place where people come to spend money. We feel that we have a higher mission, which is to encourage social interaction and exchange.”
“Interesting,” I say, “and how do you achieve this?”
“Social isolation is increasing as internet connectivity and online shopping expand,” says Mrs Sng. “People stay at home behind their PCs and don’t meet in person anymore. We want to play a role in countering this trend. We want people to come to Orchard Road not just to shop, but also to meet others and enjoy time together.”
“We see this at the weekends,” Steven adds, “when families, sometimes three generations together, go out for a stroll and of course for food, because after shopping, eating is the main national pastime.”
“That sounds like a great purpose,” I say, “so what do you offer in addition to shopping?”
“Actually there’s a range of attractions,” says Mrs. Sng. “Orchard Road is set in a great environment, with rooftop gardens and a butterfly trail across the roofs that attracts butterflies across its whole length, as well as a tree-lined boulevard with plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants.”
Mrs. Sng pauses to take a sip of her tea. “In addition to our unparalleled shopping facilities with more than 5,000 stores, we organize wonderful events like the Christmas Light-Up in the run-up to the holidays.”
“Or Earth Hour,” she adds, “where people come together with candles and all the lights are turned off along Orchard Road. And of course there is ‘Fashion Steps Out’ when Orchard Road itself becomes a giant catwalk.
“We also provide WiFi in all our shopping malls,” Steven adds. “We’ve even launched a mobile app that guides you through Orchard Road and gives suggestions along the way.”
“Cool!” I say, “mixing the virtual with the physical retail experience!”
Steven smiles. “You know sometimes when young people ask me whether we have WiFi, I wish I could just say, ‘No, why don’t you talk to each other instead?’, but I know that’s just a dream. This is the world we live in now… And in the end many people use social media to connect in real life, so our goal is to make Orchard Road the place where people come to connect.”
“It’s a total experience in other words,” says Anouk. “Bridging retail, dining and entertainment, but also the virtual and physical worlds.”
“Exactly,” says Mrs. Sng, “and the best way to find out is to stroll around Orchard Road and experience the magic yourself. Why don’t you go and have a fresh fruit juice in the rooftop garden and relax after your flight?”
“Sounds like a plan,” says Anouk. “And afterwards I might go and try a great pair of red shoes I saw in a shop window as we were coming to meet you!”
Tags: #CBNWS, #ATW80B, ORBA, Orchard Road, Orchard Road Business Association, Adine Loh, Steven Goh, Mrs. Sng, the story of Orchard Road