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Fashion Industry Trends and eCommerce Trends in Singapore 2021: Consumer Interests and Purchases

Hui Shan Tan

Lady shopping for clothes

In this second part of a two-part series on fashion and eCommerce trends in Singapore, we will be exploring what Singaporean consumers have been looking out for – particularly in terms of product and market trends. If you haven’t checked out the first part of the series, you can click here to read more about the consumer profile and behaviour of Singaporean fashion consumers.

In 2020, countries across the world faced a series of extraordinary events and unforeseen challenges. In Singapore, the government launched circuit breaker measures at the height of the pandemic, mandating most residents to remain at home from 7th April 2020 to 1st June 2020. During this period, shopping malls and other public spaces were deserted until the situation stabilised.

This resulted in a paradigm shift in Singaporean consumers’ behaviour. Due to not being able to shop in brick-and-mortar shops during the lockdown, many people turned to online shopping. Consequently, Singapore’s digital economy grew an additional US$500 million per year, while several businesses even saw an impressive growth rate that was three times the usual.1

Additionally, eCommerce platforms in Singapore experienced a two-digit growth at 23 per cent in total web visits throughout the first six months of 2020.2 Over the entire year, the gross merchandise volume of the Singaporean eCommerce market amounted to approximately four billion U.S. dollars and is expected to reach eight billion U.S. dollars by 2025.3

The eCommerce surge in Singapore is supported by the fact that 37 per cent of Singaporeans claimed to have frequently shopped online as a result of the pandemic, with three out of four consumers planning to maintain their current online shopping levels well after the crisis subsides.4

Now that we’ve gotten a sense of the quirks and habits of Singaporean fashion consumers from the previous article, we can zoom into what exactly these consumers are interested in.

What are Singaporean fashion consumers purchasing?

Singaporean consumers shop for tops, sportswear, and leisurewear amidst the pandemic

As mentioned in the earlier article, the largest proportion of all online fashion shoppers in Singapore fall in the 25 – 34 years old age group.5 This group of shoppers are known as the millennials – most of whom are in the workforce. With the COVID-19 pandemic, most of them had to work from home instead of going out, leading to the onset of Zoom Fashion.

While Zoom is an e-conferencing tool that gained immense popularity over 2020, Zoom Fashion refers to donning nice tops and makeup during Zoom calls – but not wearing a full suit or outfit, since the screen only shows users from the chest up. In the words of Zalora’s Southeast Asia Trender Report4, video call attendees can “afford to dress from the waist up specifically for online meetings, allowing for a more relaxed approach to workwear (think sweatpants and pyjama trousers paired together with blouses and blazers)”.

Singaporean influencers have also given tips on looking good specifically for video call situations – one of whom is Mira Sianipar who has suggested that “the focus will be your face and upper body so I would go with something (…) which includes a hat and a top that has interesting details such as oversized sleeves.”6 This means that if you’re intending to enter Singapore’s fashion market, fancy tops or headwear can be one way to gain the attention of your consumers.

On another note, during the pandemic, many Singaporeans have also turned to keeping healthy indoors. Social distancing measures coupled with a growing concern to keep fit has given way to a more active consumer at home, leading to an increase in demand for sportswear. Furthermore, since consumers no longer have to travel for hours to get to work, they have more time at home to be active.

Given the versatility of sportswear itself, it is not surprising to see consumers favouring activewear over their regular attires. According to Eric Cheang, Category Director of ZALORA Group4, sportswear owes its success to its versatility that, for instance, allows consumers to exercise and do household chores at the same time without having to change.

Similarly, as staying indoors becomes the new normal, luxury brands have also been quick to capitalise on this by creating a new “home leisure” fashion trend, whereby fashion collections include pieces such as loungewear, sleepwear and intimates.

For example, Louis Vuitton launched its #StayInWithLV social media campaign featuring local fashion influencers such as Yoyo Kulala8 and Willabelle Ong.9 These influencers donned Louis Vuitton monogram pyjamas and bedroom slippers to showcase how to stay fashionable indoors, and offered different ways to style the loungewear.

This is significant because while many brands have struggled to connect with consumers during the pandemic, innovative campaign strategies and strategic launches such as Louis Vuitton’s can help brands remain relevant and top-of-mind amongst local consumers7. Post-pandemic, it is likely that brands with higher top-of-mind recall amongst consumers can benefit more than others in terms of sales performances.

Therefore, if you’re looking to enter the Singaporean fashion market during this period, it might be helpful to look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fashion items such as tops, sportswear and leisure clothing which have become more popular.

Sustainable fashion continues to grow with consumers making conscious choices

Sustainable Fashion in Singapore infographic - SG's are increasingly making green lifestyle choices, 63% would buy sustainable products at Zalora, 7 in 10 are open to greener habits, local fashion resale companies rising

In recent years, fashion consumers in Singapore have moved towards making conscious lifestyle choices by selecting brands and services that align with green values. As a result, more brands in Singapore have been putting sustainability at the forefront of their manufacturing and sourcing practices as consumers are becoming more aware of the products they purchase.11

Independent brands that are based on sustainability such as using alternative fibres, manufacturing from leftover fabrics and using waste products to produce clothes are becoming more readily available and accessible in Singapore11, including both home-grown and foreign ones who are interested in grabbing a share of this newly burgeoning market10.

As mentioned in the first article, there has been a decline in consumer spending on apparel and footwear even before the COVID-19 pandemic. One optimistic way to see this could be that consumers are being more mindful of what they are purchasing – hence slowing down their purchases in this sector.

According to Euromonitor, consumers in Singapore are becoming more critical of brands and are educating themselves on the different aspects of sustainability. Singaporeans are taking environmental sustainability more seriously with a growing number of zero-waste stores popping up and the increasing use of reusable straws11.

In a recent survey done with ZALORA’s customers,4 about 90 percent of Southeast Asian participants presented some level of interest in shopping for sustainable products. A majority came from Singapore, in which 63 percent of customers claim they will “definitely purchase sustainable products at ZALORA”, even if they were at least 5% more expensive.

In 2020, 30 days after ZALORA Basic’s first sustainable collection was launched, approximately 25 percent of the collection was sold — twice as fast as any non-sustainable collection.4 Higher traction of sales was also found in Singapore among the Southeast Asian countries, contributing to about 20 percent of total sales4. Considering that the average price of the collection is 70 percent higher than a regular non-sustainable ZALORA-labelled piece,4 the results are fairly impressive.

Much like a trickle-down effect, the rise of sustainability has paved the way for eco-forward homegrown designers and smaller eCommerce fashion platforms that hinge on responsible shopping. For example, Zerrin is a platform based in Singapore that not only aims to make it easier for women to shop and discover sustainable brands in one place, and also to bring together a community with inspirational content and a set of conscious values.12

In another example, The Green Collective houses various sustainable fashion and non-fashion brands together in one store, and its approach revolves around a mission to make sustainability mainstream among consumers. In addition to a physical store launched in 2018, The Green Collective has also recently launched an online platform in August 2020.

In our earlier article on the behaviour of Singaporean fashion consumers, we covered that the pandemic has magnified the need for omnichannel strategies that keep the customer’s perspective in mind. In this case, The Green Collective’s launch of its eCommerce store during the pandemic could be another example of reaching out to more consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Zs, who are much more tech-savvy and interested in shopping through both online and offline methods.

Omnichannel marketing is crucial to providing a holistic retail experience for consumers in Singapore, especially those who tend to split their shopping journey into different stages with different preferences. For instance, some may prefer to browse catalogues on eCommerce platforms and purchase offline, while some may prefer the opposite. Either way, it would be good to prepare an omnichannel strategy to cater to the needs of all consumers, and ensure that all stages of the journey are smooth – including checkout and delivery.

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While we don’t intend to go further into detail about the importance of having an omnichannel presence in this article, we would still like to highlight the growing need for brands to have sustainability in their pipeline. This is because younger consumers in Singapore, who would eventually form the bulk of your customers, are increasingly focused on sustainable fashion14 – and this can be one good way to stand out among your competitors.

Fashion resale market expands as consumers seek ways to optimise spending and be more sustainable

As a result of the previous trend, the growth of sustainable fashion has also seen an increase in the demand for resale products. For instance, a 2019 DBS survey15 reported that “seven in 10 Singaporeans are open to recycling, swapping or upcycling their clothes to play their part in slowing climate change”.

To meet the demands of younger consumer groups in Singapore, such as millennials and Gen Z that have shown active support for the resale market, many brands have started shifting towards promoting a circular fashion economy and the reduction of wastage.7

As an example, REFASH is a thrift store in Singapore that resells thousands of styles from popular brands such as Love, Bonito, Pomelo, and The Editor’s Market, at up to 70% off retail prices. REFASH has ten physical outlets islandwide, an eCommerce store, and an Instagram page with over 24K followers. As of December 2020, it has processed over S$1 million (US$748,000) in transactions and serves more than 20,000 buyers and 15,000 sellers.10

As REFASH continues to market itself to consumers by reminding them that it is much cheaper to purchase clothes from them, albeit secondhand, it suggests that Singaporean consumers are also driven by the money-saving appeal of buying pre-loved items, even if not by their sustainability. This can also be seen in the sellers’ side of the transaction as they are lured towards making back some of the cost they incurred from purchasing the original item.

In the words of Stephanie Crespin, CEO of Reflaunt and founder of Singapore-based luxury reseller boutique Style Tribute, the circular economy of fashion revolves around helping consumers realise that their fashion pieces retain value and can be sold to recover some of the initial cost.16 At the same time, this would also allow someone else to enjoy the piece they once cherished at an affordable price.

Crespin also mentions that another interesting implication of the rise of second-hand markets is the shift in focus from the customer journey to the product life cycle – the fashion piece doesn’t ‘die’ anymore with the first customer’s journey, it lives on with the second customer’s journey.16

According to Crespin, this would ideally induce brands and businesses to increase their efforts or investment in crafting more durable quality products that can be passed on from person to person, maintaining a worthy product experience for the following users, potentially converting them into future customers.16 In this case, it appears that producing high-quality, durable clothing can not only help you gain a better rapport among customers, it can also help you reach out to more potential customers.

Besides casual wear, purchasing and selling pre-owned luxury clothing is also becoming normalised in Singapore. In the case of ZALORA, a luxury Pre-Loved category was launched in December 2019 on both its website and mobile app. In 2020, this has expanded with new segments such as Pre-Loved for Men. The first sales results of the Pre-Loved categories have been met with positive responses, indicating an increased propensity to shop second-hand and pledge towards a more circular fashion economy.4

Towards the end of 2020, multiple fashion houses had started to incorporate the second-hand economy by either partnering existing resale platforms or by directly acquiring resale entities. The growing demand for second-hand luxury therefore forces luxury players to rethink their operational, business and product strategies in order to be prepared for changes in the future.7

In this present state of Singapore’s fashion industry, while secondhand shopping has not become everything, it can be one possible way to enter the market. For instance, while you do not need to sell pre-loved items exclusively, you can incorporate small bits of it into your business model – such as by giving discounts to customers who trade in their old pieces of clothing with you. This can give your brand a better name among those who value sustainability and zero-waste.

Spending on luxury fashion declines, but is set to pick up over 2021 and 2022

In 2020, travel restrictions placed on international visitors by the Singapore Government in order to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 has undeniably impacted demand for luxury fashion, which was heavily dependent on foreign spending. Before the outbreak curbed travel, luxury brands relied on Chinese spenders – of whom 70% made purchases overseas because the same goods cost more domestically due to tariffs.17

Yet, now left with little choice, luxury brands in Singapore have started turning their attention towards local consumption. To maintain domestic spending and move stock which has built up during the physical closure of boutiques, brands have been ramping up their digitalisation strategies.

For example, many luxury brands within the category, including Balenciaga, Burberry, and Yves Saint Laurent, offered complimentary delivery and returns on their Singapore websites, as well as personalised shopper services from the brands’ advisors in order to encourage purchases during the lockdown.7

Such secure, seamless transaction and delivery strategies aim to offer a worry-free shopping experience for consumers of big-ticket items such as designer apparel and footwear and hence boost consumer confidence to shop for luxury items online.

In fact, leading brands such as Hermès reported high volumes of online orders during the initial Circuit Breaker;7 Hermès was particularly active on social media, releasing advertisements on platforms such as Instagram with increasingly eye-catching and creative concepts to attract tech-savvy younger consumers.

Various luxury brands have been gradually following suit by collaborating with influencers and niche bloggers to raise consumer awareness, thereby increasing their online presence in the hope of converting interest into sales, including through eCommerce.7

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Additionally, some good news in the luxury sector can also be found in the iPrice article18 that claims there was a drastic increase in Google searches and impressions of luxury brands across Southeast Asia during the first half of 2020. For instance, Louis Vuitton’s searches increased by a surprising 555%, with their clothing spearheading the increase of search interests by 1,395%.

This means that in spite of the pandemic, Southeast Asian consumers as a whole are still searching for luxury and fashion items. As access to physical stores were temporarily curbed in Singapore, interest shifted from offline to online platforms.18

While personal luxury products might not be a priority for many local consumers, it is likely to benefit from the overall uplift in consumer spending, with value sales growth set to significantly improve in 2021/2022 before returning to greater levels of normalisation.19

Furthermore, with Singapore’s popularity as a tourism hot spot for Chinese visitors, there remains hope that Chinese consumers can help to boost the luxury fashion industry once travel bans are lifted. This is because consumers from this major source of sales are likely to exhibit signs of overspending and “revenge buying”, such as when Guangzhou’s Hermès retail store saw long queues once China country exited its lockdown, resulting in a US$2.7 million in revenue on the store’s first day of reopening.7

Thus, not all is gloomy for the luxury fashion industry in Singapore. If you’re intending to enter the country with a more luxurious image, it would pay off to have a strong marketing strategy to reach out to domestic consumers, such as through providing customised service even through digital means.

What can newer businesses take note of when entering Singapore’s fashion industry?

In response to the economic impact the pandemic has brought to Singaporean consumers, it might be good to put in extra effort to woo consumers over with an excellent shopping experience and customer service – just so they would find your brand worth spending on in spite of their possibly lowered income.

For instance, many local brands have been investing in online promotional campaigns. Local fashion brand, MDS, offered membership packages that gave large discounts for bulk purchases of four items. The brand uses its stores as showrooms for consumers to try on products before confirming any orders, highlighting the shifting role of stores in an omnichannel retailing environment.20

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, sustainability is becoming an increasingly important value for consumers in Singapore. Luxury brand or not, if you’re able to tap on that, such as by coming up with a sustainable fashion line or by incorporating recycling into your business model, it could pay off in the long run when your brand image has been established as one that values the environment.

Furthermore, by considering the new normal in Singapore, which is likely to include much more work-from-home instances compared to pre-pandemic levels, you might also want to focus more on tops, sportswear or leisure clothing.

Nonetheless, regardless of which exact fashion category you intend to enter, it remains crucial for you to partner with a reliable logistics service provider who can deliver goods on time and in good condition. In Singapore, consumers tend to be mindful of the entire shopping journey, of which delivery plays a huge role – as seen in nearly every other review on eCommerce platforms.

As Singaporean consumers have tons of eCommerce platforms and online brand stores to choose from, one must provide an impeccable consumer journey for customers so that they would be inclined to return to your shop. Hence, retailers would do well by providing an on-demand, quick and easy shopping experience. This should begin right when consumers browse for products either online or in stores, and finally to checkout and delivery.

As we look to yet another year of uncertainty in travel and finance, having a strong eCommerce strategy might help your business reach out to Singaporean fashion consumers who are digitally inclined but might need some convincing to shop more. With Janio’s experience in delivering goods to and fro Southeast Asia, you’ve got at least one aspect settled when it comes to winning over the support of your customers.

 

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References:

  1. Channel News Asia: Commentary: E-commerce is set to boom, driven by COVID-19
  2. The ASEAN Post: Is COVID-19 Fuelling Singapore’s E-Commerce Boom?
  3. Bain & Company: e-Conomy SEA 2020 Report
  4. ZALORA: Southeast Asia Trender Report 2020
  5. Statista: Fashion – Singapore
  6. Her World: Influencers’ tips on how to look good on video calls
  7. Euromonitor: Designer Apparel and Footwear (Ready-To-Wear) in Singapore | Market Research Report 
  8. Instagram: YOYO CAO (@yoyokulala) • Instagram photos and videos
  9. Instagram: Willabelle Ong (@willamazing) • Instagram photos and videos
  10. South China Morning Post: Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew preached sustainability – now Source Collections offer Lyocell clothes and Outfyt recycle fishing nets into Econyl fabric
  11. Euromonitor: Apparel and Footwear Specialist Retailers in Singapore | Market Research Report
  12. The Honeycombers: Susannah Jaffer of Zerrin on shopping meaningfully | Honeycombers
  13. The Green Collective SG
  14. The Straits Times: Green is the new look for fashion, ST Editorial News & Top Stories
  15. DBS: Singaporeans open to sustainable fashion but won’t pay more: DBS survey
  16. FrenchTech Singapore: Stephanie Crespin – Tech in Fashion industry – Where there is Tech, There are French
  17. Nikkei Asia: China’s global share of luxury spending nearly doubles amid COVID
  18. iPrice: Why the Fashion Industry Can Survive COVID19’s Aftermath
  19. Euromonitor: Personal Luxury in Singapore | Market Research Report
  20. Euromonitor: Womenswear in Singapore | Market Research Report
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