While its shopping scene mightn't match the edge of Hong Kong's or Bangkok's, Singapore is no retail slouch. Look beyond the malls and you'll find everything from sharply curated local boutiques to vintage map peddlers and clued-in contemporary galleries.
Malls & Boutiques
Singapore's iconic malls come in all styles and sizes, from shiny, high-tech temples such as ION Orchard Mall and Paragon to budget throwbacks such as Far East Plaza. Orchard Rd is Singapore's mall epicentre, with the greatest breadth and depth of stores, from high-street chains to decadent couture. While luxury brands are generally more expensive in Singapore than they are in Hong Kong, the UK or Europe, some stores offer discounts of between 10% and 15% for big spenders, so it's always worth asking.
For an altogether more idiosyncratic experience, hit the city's independent boutiques, which stock anything from lesser-known and emerging fashion labels to inspired design objects and harder-to-find books. You'll find small but thriving scenes in Tiong Bahru and Haji Lane in Kampong Glam.
While Singapore is not the cut-price electronics nirvana it used to be, it can offer a few savings for those who do their homework and bargain successfully. Know the price of things before you start shopping around, then browse and compare. Always ask vendors what they can do to sweeten the deal; at the very least, they should be able to throw in a camera case or some memory cards, for example.
Electronics mall Sim Lim Square is well-known for its range and negotiable prices, though it's also known for taking the uninitiated for a ride, not to mention for occasionally selling 'new' equipment that isn't quite new: a quick internet search will bring up blacklisted businesses.
The best deals are on computers and cameras, with prices often 20% lower than in major stores. During sale periods, it's not unusual to score a computer or camera for around half the recommended retail price.
Art & Antiques
If you're after art or antiques, it pays to know your original piece from your cheap copy. For Asian antiques, the best places to head to are Chinatown, Dempsey Rd or Tanglin Shopping Centre. Deep-pocketed collectors of contemporary Asian art should scour gallery hubs Gillman Barracks and the Old Hill Street Police Station. For more affordable art by local and regional artists, check out Utterly Art and the Affordable Art Fair, the latter showcasing the work of local creatives such as Billy Ma.
Crafts & Fabrics
Little India is a good spot to pick up spices, decorative items and vibrant saris – you'll find a large choice of saris at Tekka Centre, with finer options at nearby Nalli. Kampong Glam is the place to go for Persian rugs. There's no shortage of vendors on Arab St, where you'll also find Sifr Aromatics, a modern take on the area's old-school perfume merchants. For colourful Peranakan garments and traditional batik fabrics, head east to the neighbourhood of Joo Chiat (Katong).
Taxes & Refunds
Departing visitors can get a refund of the 7% GST on their purchases, under the following conditions:
- Minimum spend of $100 at one retailer on the same day for no more than three purchases.
- You have a copy of the eTRS (Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme) ticket issued by the shop. Alternatively you can use a debit or credit card as a token to track your purchases; no need to pay with the card, it will just keep a tally.
- You scan your eTRS ticket or token debit/credit card at the self-help kiosks at the airport or cruise terminal. If physical inspection of the goods is required as indicated by the eTRS self-help kiosk, you will have to present the goods, together with the original receipt and your boarding pass, at the Customs Inspection Counter.
You will need to show your passport at the store when purchasing. Smaller stores may not participate in the GST refund scheme.
Need to Know
- Retail stores: 11am to 9pm or 10pm
- Malls: 10am to 10pm
- Mustafa Centre: 24 hours
Bargaining & Returns
Prices are usually fixed, except at markets and some shops in touristy areas. If you do haggle, stay good-humoured and don't get petty, causing everyone to lose face. Singaporean shops don't accept returns. Exchanges are accepted if items have original tags and packaging.