On the first day of Phase 2, Orchard Road was not as manic as many thought it would be. Conspicuous consumption isn’t so obvious. Yet
Zara welcomes you back at ION Orchard
19 June 2020. It is probably the biggest day of the year, when so many people cooped up at home for the past eleven weeks are let loose, when retailers unable to open because of Circuit Breaker measures recoup lost sales of the past two months, when the thirsty—and not—are able to drink all the bubble milk tea in the world. This is not only going to make the news this evening, it’ll be the stuff to delight historians. A prelude to how fashion will resurge, how retail will revive, how our economy will recover. Cautiously, we joined happy shoppers in Orchard Road to observe the expected and expectant crowd, to witness merchandise fly off the shelves, to see history in the making.
The MRT train ride was unexpectedly quiet until two young women, getting off at Orchard station, yelped: “At last!” The palpable enthusiasm did not, surprisingly, reflect the relative calm on the platform. There weren’t that many people. It was half past eleven and at this relatively early hour of the retail day, there was no beating-the-crowd, no I-can’t-keep-the-mask-on-anymore, and no I-don’t-care-if-I’m-not-one-metre-apart. There was no rush exiting the ION Orchard side of the station, nor entering the mall. SafeEntry screening held up the line moving in a little, but it was, surprisingly, not corrupted by impatience and hustle. Simply the calm before the storm?
Still-quiet ION Orchard at noon
Once inside ION Orchard—the mall that had a head start on publicity the moment CNA told us before Phase 2 struck “what to expect when ION reopens”—the mood was even more restrained. Perhaps what the 87,490-square-metre complex did not expect was the surprising trickle of shoppers, at least before one in the afternoon. The place was not teeming. Most of the shops had opened by now, but short lines were seen outside only four stores: Daiso, Muji, Sephora, and Zara. There was no queue at Louis Vuitton. If you looked inside, there were more sales people than shoppers. We were not sure if this had anything to do with LV requesting customers to “schedule an appointment”, as stated on their website. Next door at Dior, a set of stanchion and belt was set up beside the entrance, but no one was behind them. Inside, one teenager was trying on sneakers. Directly across, Gucci’s stanchion and rope also had no company while behind the windows, we could make out less than a handful of customers.
An hour later, it seemed to us that the anticipated “revenge shopping” and the attendant cause, “pent-up demand”, were much muted, even if they materialised. Do people still buy with a vengeance? We saw no one laden with shopping bags, except a dressed-alike couple with massive ones containing what appeared to be polypropylene storage cases. The other one that caught our eye was a shopping bag as fashion statement—the Virgil Abloh X Ikea brown carrier emblazoned with the word “sculpture” and, yes, flanked by inverted commas. Has online shopping really diminished the lure of what a mall can offer? Has it prevailed? A woman we had seen earlier looking at the LV window was leaving ION Orchard at the same time we ‘checked out’. Curiosity got a better of us: “Didn’t buy anything?” She was cheerful: “No, lah. I get (sic) everything online now. Just wanted to get out of the house.”
Louis Vuitton at ION Orchard, with no queue outside
The queue-less store fronts extended to Takashimaya Shopping Centre too. A short while ago, one SOTD follower WhatsApped us a photo of the main concourse, showing a long queue to get into Takashimaya Department Store, where we later learned, Versace was causing considerable excitement with 50% discounts on their merchandise. When we got here, the queue was not evident. By the end of our excursion, we observed that if there were lines getting into malls, they were there due to the requisite SafeEntry—scanning of QR codes or ICs took time, and some shoppers were more dexterous than others. A few here were heard grumbling that they had already scanned upon entering Taka (the mall), and it was “wasting time” to scan again going into Taka (the store), probably unaware that both are not technically the same place.
When we arrived via the entrance between LV and Chanel, the line visible was composed of shoppers getting into the mall. There were three people outside Chanel going through the new-normal, triage-like, pre-entry procedures (we saw three members of the staff involved in this operation). Opposite, at LV, there were five waiting. It is debatable if a trio or a quintet is a line, but one audible delight—“Wah, no queue, leh”—outside Chanel was indication that the relative breeze in getting in was an unusual but welcome sight. One mother told her daughter, “quick, take picture.” Past these two sentinel-like stores to this entry point of the mall, fewer queues were seen. There was none at Celine, Dior, and Fendi. Most surprising was the longest line at that time: the one outside Tiffany. Jewellery was missed. Either that or the gifting season has arrived.
It was clear enough of people outside Chanel at Takashimaya SC for posed pictures
Further down what Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) calls “a great street”, the crowd seemed to be gravitating towards 313@ Somerset. Before we got there, we were surprised to see an impressive line outside Victoria’s Secret at Mandarin Gallery. Whatever it was they had inside, it was clearly not undisclosed. In contrast, Surrender in the building across, identified only by its number—268, saw no one awaiting to be let in. Its neighbour Off-White, too, had no shoppers lined up. Similarly, the H&M flagship store opposite of Victoria’s Secret, looked like it was still closed to business. There was no line to be seen and the inside looked strangely dark. With only one glass door ajar, it was easy to think they were only just opening or exercising some stringent checks. From here, looking towards the side entrance of 313@Somerset, it was within sight that getting into the mall would require getting in line.
Past the screening, it wasn’t as bustling as what the outside suggested. The busiest spot, unsurprisingly, was at a bubble tea shop—Chicha San Chen on level three, where the scene was reminiscent of those before 21 April, when all bubble tea shops were disallowed to operate during the rest of the duration of the Circuit Breaker. A queue was seen at Zara, as it was at their stores in ION Orchard and Takashimaya SC. A staff explained that it was not busier than usual, but that they were controlling the number of shoppers in the store. Surprisingly no line was spotted outside Limited Edt and its sister L.E. Underground (it was empty here when we past it at around three). In fact, earlier at JD Sports in ION Orchard, it was relatively quiet too. Similarly, there were few shoppers at AW Lab in Wisma Atria. Ditto for Nike in Paragon.
In Good Company not ready to receive shoppers
Over at Orchard Central, Uniqlo was, as they announced yesterday, closed. All their stores were actually lit, and the staff was clearly busy at work. No disinfecting activity was seen, but there was the stocking of merchandise and acceptance of delivery. At ION Orchard earlier, one woman was clearly disappointed. “why liddad,” she exclaimed, and went to a gap in the drawn and shut folding glass doors and asked the staff, who was organising clothes on a shelf, why wasn’t the store opened. We could not hear what the guy said. She walked away, muttering “waste my time.”
If a big Japanese chain store such as Uniqlo wasn’t ready to open, it was not surprising that local stores weren’t too. In Good Company’s flagship at ION Orchard was not opened. So was Love, Bonito at 313@Somerset. Even the benches in front of the store—usually husband and boyfriend central—were unoccupied. It is true people are “dying to get out”, but not necessarily to shop. For many out this afternoon, by now on the verge of enough of a crowd to make personal space a rare commodity, the Circuit Breaker is over. That isn’t quite accurate since we are in Phase 2, without an official declaration that all forms of restrictions are lifted. As we left Orchard Gateway to go into the MRT station, a stern security staff asked for our phones. She wanted to see if we had ‘checked out’.
The direction of traffic is clearly marked out at all Hugo Boss stores
This ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’, required by SafeEntry , the “national digital check-in system”, was not adopted consistently across all the malls we visited earlier. While checking in is a must and is ensured by security personnel, checking out is not regulated. Only at Orchard Gateway were we halted and asked for proof of having done so. While this requirement is acceptable at designated entry and exit points of malls, it was not implemented in a manner as to speed up, in particular, entry. The QR codes were placed or erected, in most cases, all over the place. During what for most was the first visit after the Circuit Breaker, many did not instinctively know where to look. At 313@Orchard, posters bearing the QR code were plastered onto the glass door of the entrance, along which was also where the queue had formed. Enthusiastic visitors stretched out their hands so that their smartphones were able to capture the matrix barcode, all the while their forearms were in front of your face.
For those of us who still consider the experience known as shopping to be fun, the need to check in and out at every single store after first entering the mall quickly diminishes the enjoyment. Frankly, it bordered on the annoying. And was disruptive to the rhythm of what many appeared to do—leisurely shopping. For that reason, we did not enter any store (we were, after all, observing). But for those who did, not every outlet offered the semblance of a nice, purchase-in-hand time. A few clothing stores reportedly had plastic sheets covering their merchandise, and disallowed the trying on of garments. The common reaction: isn’t see-no-touch just window shopping? This normal we were seeing will soon be new no more.
Updated: 20 June 2020, 10:35
Photos: Chin Boh Kay