If There is One Thing I Can Change On How Singapore Retail Market Operates … OK, Make it 10

I love my country but not certain aspects of our retail market.  I am not an economist, just a layman consumer on the ground.  My everyday observation as such.

Recently I bought a camera.  If you are to buy the exact same one I have at a major chain store, you would have to pay 25% more compares to getting one from a small shop.  Same camera.  Why pay more?  It’s not a plate of chicken rice here that you have to pay S$1 more because you are in the Orchard area.  We are talking about adding a few more zeroes to that.

The moment I discover instances like this, I vow not to buy anything from these chain stores unless absolutely need to.  You should vow the same too and say no to daylight robbery (unless you are loaded with $$).

I used to purchase books from the major bookstores in Singapore.  Then I discovered the vast difference between buying one here and ordering one from Amazon.com (even with shipping fees and your items are likely to arrive in a few days’ time).  Take one photography book (ISBN 0321555619) as an example.  Times bookstore sells it at S$70.  Amazon.com sells it at US$30.  Even with a US$10 extra on shipping fees, you would have saved S$10.  Or 14%.  More savings when you order more books online (US$5 is fixed regardless on the number of items).

So, I vow not to buy anything from the bookstores here unless absolutely need to.  You should too.  What has gone wrong with these stores?  Maybe you have a clue for I have none.

Maybe you think … hang on, we are paying for the superb knowledge of the salesmen right?  Observe our sales people next time.  How many of them are label readers?  You ask a question, they read the label, and tell you an answer.  You ask which one is better, they read each label one by one, and you still cannot decide.

Not all are label readers, I must admit.  But do our salesmen use or have passion on what they sell?  Most of the time, I got the answer no and the most common reason is: I don’t have time for this.  Ask the sales person next time: do you actually use anything you sell?

Cynthia needed a Korg chromatic tuner (the pitchback series) for our gig.  And we finally got it just days before our live performance, after we have placed the order for 3 months.  I have been hunting for the Nikon zoom lens for ages.  No way I am going to pay 20% extra to get one from a chain store.  I literally have to camp over a few camera shops in order to get one.  Countless time I called in or walked into the shop only to find that a walk-in visitor just bought the last piece.

Gosh … I’m tired of waiting.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the newspaper agent littering “Today” at our doorstep.  Over the years, I have called them so many times to stop “Today” from appearing.  But every now and then, perhaps as and when they need to up the readership, “Today” piles up at my doorstep.  Every weekend, we have to take the unread “Today” and dump them away.


The price we pay for a dead cold fish in Singapore, we could have gotten a live fish in Hong Kong.  Do the small camera shops actually want to sell me anything at all?  Of all the salesmen in Singapore, the ones at the camera shops rank the lowest in my book.  Seriously, photography isn’t that expensive as a hobby.  My guitars ain’t cheap.  Neither are my computer components.  Music instrument stores and computer stores welcome me to camp over their shops like a long lost child of theirs.  Maybe you do, but I don’t get it.

And hence, I sigh at our retail market, though I love my first world country.

PS. A random picture of my first lens taken with my second zoom lens.


  1. Also, when we ask the salesmen to check if there’re more stocks, one is almost certain to get this standard reply from them: “Everything is already there on the shelf. If have, means have. If don’t have, means don’t have.”

    Thought there are some hobbyist shops around, such as Alan Photo and John 316, that are pretty well-known for their good service and expert advice?

  2. I try not to buy books, I borrow from the library or friends. Yeah, I’m cheapskate. Save the Earth.

    Although I don’t usually read it, I also get a free copy of Today every morning. I don’t buy any other papers. Save the Earth.

    There is nothing much we can do about the attitude of the sales staff in Singapore, unless your skin is white, you seldom get good service. haha!

  3. Sing Chyun – You are absolutely spot on! The other day I bought a camera bag from Cathay Photo and the guy told me that it was the last piece and the stock doesn’t come often. A few days later when I visited the same shops, I saw a new one on display!

    Alan Photo at Sim Lim is good. But definitely not the one at Funan. As for John 316, my experience with them is that they are really good salesmen (long queue as well). But they don’t sell you what you want. Rather, they sell you what they have stocks. There is a vast difference between the two!

    I like Max Photo at Centerpoint. Very friendly place. Good pricing too.

  4. CSC – That’s right. 25% more for my camera if you buy it from a major store like Harvey Norman or BEST.

    Alan Photo at Sim Lim is OK. Max Photo at Centrepoint is the friendly bunch. Pricing for both are acceptable, if paid in cash.

  5. ECL – That’s right. If I can borrow from the library, like those novels, I would. However, there are books like reference titles that I wish to keep as I do read it very often every now and then. Also, business titles are hard to borrow from the library. Maybe from the reference library that is not that convenience.

    Your comment reminds me of another day, I was camping at the Sony Shop of Funan for ages and no one cared to come by to see if I needed help. When a Westerner stepped in, immediately the salesmen were all over them.

  6. Tracy – Thanks for sharing! I checked out the link and the price of one particular book as a reference, the gap is still very big (ISBN 0321555562). If I am to order from Amazon.com, even with shipping fees, it is only S$55. For OpenTrolley, it is S$70. That is a 20% saving. Besides, Amazon.com seems to have a warehouse in Hong Kong. Whenever I order books from them, I receive the books posted from HK within a week.

  7. Wil- Yup, you are right! Amazon is still much cheaper. I got this book “Hunting & Gathering” (I am a die hard “Audrey Tautou” Fan, what can u say :P) at $S12++ dollar plus the Vpost delivery.

    Meaning, the Vpost will give you an address to deliver to in USA. You use that address in your Amazon account. Then, once Vpost received it in US, they will deliver to your Singapore Address.

    That Why I was able to snatch the deal of US2.50 book + US3.99 deliver to my USA address and Sing 4++ to deliver to my house…

    Roughly the cost of the book is $12, guess how much they are selling at Kinokunya? They are selling the book at $24 dollars.. Wah… almost one time saving…

    Also their services are really really bad. They set up this special counter with two guys searching the book using computer, you wait and tell them the book name (“I wished someone is waiting for me somewhere”), and they give you the shelf number and point you toward the wrong direction!! I mean come on, how lousy is that… Even with the shelf number 07-03, I ask two staff who was wandering around, where is this shelf. They ask me to go back and see these two guys who sitting in front of the computer and have no idea where the shelf is… I gave up and did not buy that book…

    Such poor service in Singapore, I saw 1 angmoh also facing the same problem that day… going from the computer geek to the cashier counter and asking them where the shelf is, sadly all their replies are standard (like they goes thru some kind of bad service training), ” Sir, pls proceed to the information counter”. His reply is also same as mine, ” I have being to the information counter, all they gave me is this fucking shelf number, how do you expect me to find it in this place if nobody will direct me to the shelf?”.

    Then they reply, ” I sorry, there nothing I could do to help. Please proceed to the information counter.”

    No more book from there anymore for me. It will be Amazon and VPost for me always!

  8. Ng – Wow, seems like VPost is even cheaper than the Amazon.com International shipping mechanism. Very neat! I do have a VPost account. What I do need to do is to figure out how to use it! Ha ha ha.

    Yes, bookstores like Kinokunya should rethink their business strategy and Singaporeans / Singapore residents may wish to consider the alternatives like Amazon.com. The pricing is just way off.

    At Amazon.com, you get to read other people’s comments, recommendations based on your shopping pattern, I wish bookstores here have staff who would approach me and recommend what I may like to read. That is of course, these staff have the passion to read in the first place.

  9. Wil- it actually quite simple, take the address they gave you, pluck and paste onto your delivery order. The amazon ppl will send it to the USA address. Vpost will wait two week for all your orders to come in, once you pay up Vpost, they will deliver to your singapore address.

    Two things to note: 1) group and buy all your purchase at the same time, if some of your item did not reaches USA VPost by two week, you will incurs additional charges, 2) there a base charge of 12++ dollars then a subquent of 4++ dollar for each items, so i recommend at least buy four to five items to cover for the base charge loss.

    Amazon seems to offer better deals for those interstate sales compare to international sale. An example is the book if i want directly mail to my house i can only choose amazon as my choice but if i mail interstate there so many other cheap price i can choose.. i think you understand what meant here..

  10. Ng – Hmmm … sounds interesting. For Amazon.com, it is US$5 as the base charge and US$5 per book (CD is cheaper). So wouldn’t that work out to be same-same?

    I would certainly use VPost for items that won’t be shipped overseas. Maybe a bicycle! Gasp!

  11. That’s why I love online shopping. I save SO much money and seem to be able to buy brands like Burt’s Bees and stuff which cannot be found back home!

    I have not tried Amazon yet though, maybe because I love going to bookstores!
    Shall check it out soon!

  12. G – Yes. You’ll fall in love with online bookstores. You can virtually browse some of the books too!

    I’m still so amazed by your online auction purchase of those unique jewelleries.

    Hmmm. Save more when shop more … Now that I’m at Vivocity …

  13. I cant agree more! Our prices are like mad. I dont know what we are paying for, maybe its the (overly expensive) rental or the labour (they arent even local labour are they?) or their profits?

  14. Si Ying – Hmmm … I think it may be the rental as well as the GST. And I guess the most frustrating thing is that … it is just out of stock everywhere.

    I have at least half a dozen and more items that I wish to purchase but there is no stock here in Singapore.

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