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Shopping malls should complement lifestyles, says Ong & Ong MD Tai Lee Siang

How to design a better shopping centre in land-scarce Singapore.

If brick-and-mortar malls are to stand their ground against retail websites, it’s imperative that they be designed with customers’ lifestyles in mind, says Tai Lee Siang, president of Design Business Chamber Singapore. This, going by the fact that e-commerce revenue in Singapore has jumped from 38 to 65 per cent over the past four years, according to online payments operator Paypal.

“Shopping is based on the idea of ‘guang jie’ (which means strolling on the street in Chinese), and streets are horizontal,” says Tai, who has over 20 years of experience in designing malls, and worked on Knightsbridge and Shaw House’s revamp. “Singapore’s typical shopping centre has six storeys above ground and two storeys below ground. Consumers have to shop upwards like (being on) a vertical racetrack, which is an unnatural movement.”

A shopping centre’s concept should complement lifestyles, says Tai, who’s also the group managing director of Ong & Ong. The idea behind a project titled H City that he is working on in Seoul, South Korea, for example, integrates a shopping mall with a stadium, as Koreans attend baseball games on weekends. Where it differs from Singapore’s Kallang Wave Mall – the entrance of which is different from that of the adjoining National Stadium – is that people have to pass through H City’s mall to enter the stadium. Since match-goers usually arrive early, this ensures traffic for the retail outlets.

To stay relevant, developers “must be prepared to sacrifice certain efficiency of a shopping environment” and incorporate spots like lounge areas and entertainment spots to mimic a home environment, Tai says. “Shopping online allows one to indulge from the comfort of one’s home. Malls can benefit from having these ‘living-room spaces’ so shoppers have a place to rest, without having to spend money at a cafe.”