Orchard Road malls keeping it simple for Christmas; shoppers find deco subtle but brilliant

SINGAPORE – Orchard Road malls are keeping it simple for Christmas, with pared-down decorations to mark the festive season.

This year’s light-up, which began last Friday (Nov 13), is a more subdued affair with malls cutting spending amid the slide in retail sales and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wisma Atria has outlaid 19 per cent less on Christmas decorations compared with last year, Tanglin Mall said it has spent “slightly less” while Mandarin Gallery’s budget has been “moderated downward”.

Design and build company Dezign Format, which dressed up five Orchard Road malls this year, said decoration budgets have been “affected across the board”.

Malls such as Far East Plaza are re-using some decorations from last year, sprucing them up where necessary.

Retail sales have taken a beating this year, with the latest government figures showing that for eight months since February, monthly retail sales excluding motor vehicles were down from a year ago.

Sales excluding motor vehicles fell 12.7 per cent in September compared with the same month last year.

Mr Amos Tan, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Business, said malls may be erring on the side of caution after retail stalwart Robinsons announced last month that it would close its last two stores, at Raffles City Shopping Centre and The Heeren.

“Robinson’s case is a wake-up call. We think that Orchard Road is pandemic-proof, but it’s not,” he noted.

“While the Christmas lights may bring people to Orchard Road, whether they will spend is another issue.”

Many shoppers have spotted the difference, noting that there are fewer Christmas trees and none as tall as those seen in previous years.

Ms Dolin Ong, 38, said the tree outside Paragon was the tallest they saw.

“There are fewer tourists this year so maybe that’s why malls are spending less,” said Ms Ong, the head of sales in a payments company.

Ms Vivian Ma, 30, added that some Orchard Road malls known for their photo-opportunity decorations looked lacklustre this year.

“There was a huge story book outside one of the malls in the past. Every kid and even some adults would run up to take photos with it,” said Ms Ma, a customer service adviser.

While she found the mall decorations “plain”, Ms Ma liked the white and gold baubles lighting up Orchard Road’s trees.

“It’s not as exciting … But there’s beauty in being subtle,” she added.

Another shopper, Mr Munir Mohd Basni, 48, said the blue hues of the Orchard Road light-up were “calming” compared with the “very bright and golden” ones in Christmas past.

But Mr Munir, a supervisor in a petrochemical firm, was struck by the empty space in front of many malls: “There were carriages outside some malls in previous years.”

Safe-distancing measures mean Christmas on A Great Street – what the Orchard Road light-up is billed as – has been scaled back with no street-level activities such as pop-up stores and performances, said the Orchard Road Business Association.

Although Christmas on Orchard Road this year may be less glitzy, it has not stopped malls from coming up with innovative ways to make the festivities memorable for shoppers.

Outside Wisma Atria, a miniature red train runs circles around a Christmas village crafted from recycled materials at the foot of a tree decked out in pink baubles and gold pine cones.

Last year’s Christmas village was also constructed from recycled paper and plywood and these efforts are in line with the mall’s sustainability efforts.

Ion Orchard, which boasts a 20 metre high Christmas tree, said that each of the 250 pinwheels embellishing the tree were crafted using non-toxic materials that are fully recyclable through polypropylene recycling channels.

Unlike the fir or pine trees often associated with Christmas, Orchard Gateway features a sculpture comprising crates stacked on top of each other in the shape of a tree.

Fairy lights add a finishing touch to the crates, which have been painted red and green.

Mr Suresh Pillai, who was celebrating his wife Jyoti’s birthday last Friday, described the tree as brilliant.

“It’s more like art work… very different from your usual Christmas tree,” added Mr Pillai, 54, a superintendent in the oil and gas industry.

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