THE cash registers rang loud and clear throughout 2018 at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), with the luxury mall racking up its highest sales revenue in a calendar year since the integrated resort (IR) opened its doors nearly nine years ago.
The mall, which has an occupancy rate of 95.4 per cent, raked in a record revenue of US$179 million last year, up 7 per cent from 2017. Retail tenant sales went up by 19 per cent in 2018 to reach US$1,898 per square foot.
The Shoppes also maintained its pole position in tourism shopping, with its top spenders hailing from China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. According to the latest data from tax refund provider Global Blue, 25 per cent of the goods and services tax (GST)-refunded tourist receipts in Singapore came from retailers at MBS.
John Postle, the IR's senior vice-president of retail, described the retail segment's performance in 2018 as "exceptional", given the competitive retail landscape and the growing popularity of e-commerce.
"For us, it was a record in every regard - Ebitda (earnings before income, tax, depreciation and amortisation), revenue, market share or total retail sales," the retail industry veteran said in an interview with The Business Times.
Mr Postle, who has been with MBS since day one, first joined the IR's parent company, Las Vegas Sands, as the director of its retail arm in 2006.
The Australian then moved to Singapore to be part of MBS' pre-opening team in 2008 and has spearheaded the retail business ever since.
Besides managing and developing the IR's retail business, he oversees all facets of The Shoppes' operations and strategic direction, including leasing, marketing and finance.
When MBS first opened in April 2010, Singapore and the rest of the world were still feeling the debilitating after-effects of the global financial crisis.
Mr Postle recalled how the IR could not carry out many parts of its original retail masterplan, given that many brands and retail partners were struggling.
"It was difficult to get a lot of commitment from a lot of the brands. There were concerns over their ability to trade and to get access to capital, their ability to open large-format stores or flagship stores," he said.
How things have changed. After the recession, Mr Postle led a retail remix strategy in 2012 that saw The Shoppes double its footprint with luxury brands in the form of duplexes, and a major expansion into luxury children's wear.
"It was evident that the stores and retail partners wanted to return to the original vision we had (for the mall), and that is to present a very broad format, luxury retail offering," said Mr Postle.
In the last few years, the number of duplexes at The Shoppes has grown from just a handful in the early stages to 17 today - the largest collection of duplexes under one roof in Singapore.
In January, German designer Philipp Plein launched the brand's largest store in South-east Asia at The Shoppes, shortly after Italian apparel manufacturer and lifestyle brand Moncler opened a flagship duplex, its largest store in the Asia-Pacific region.
Other new entrants to the MBS mall this year include Italian luxury shoe label Gianvito Rossi, French designer label Roger Vivier, and Canadian athletic apparel retailer Lululemon.
The floating Crystal Pavilion in the south end of The Shoppes will also be home to a "world-class, lifestyle retail brand" that Mr Postle was unable to disclose as yet.
"It's not a luxury offering, but it's a major catalyst for change, and certainly in the calibre of a global retail flagship. It will be in a very unique piece of real estate, in a very uniquely designed building," he said.
When asked how The Shoppes is dealing with the competition posed by online retailers, Mr Postle said that the MBS mall has a distinct advantage given its strong focus on luxury.
"For the discerning shopper, they appreciate that experience of being able to enter a store and being treated like a VIP - be it being ushered into a private room and having a glass of champagne, and having someone who knows what your fashion preferences are for that particular brand," he said.
"What many shoppers are looking for is still the immediate satisfaction of buying something and walking out the store there and then. That's something that cannot be obtained online. Also, there's no need to entrust a high-value item to a courier, and be worried if it will be marked before it was packaged or get damaged in transit."
When Mr Postle is not busy traversing the sprawling 800,000 square-foot mall, he usually has his eyes on what other popular retail destinations around the world are up to.
Last year, he travelled with some colleagues to destinations such as the United States, Japan and Hong Kong, because "you do need to be aware of what's going on out there".
"We look at the emerging brands and try to assess their popularity in those markets. We've been successful at bringing new-to-market brands to Singapore, and we work with them to structure the commercial deals that make it attractive for them to come here," he said.