Singaporeans shop in JB to furnish homes

The Woodlands causeway.
PHOTO: Wanbao

When Ms Jennifer Yang'sfriend suggested she buy furniture in Johor, Malaysia, the 45-year-old administrator was sceptical.

"I had doubts about getting there, plus I had no idea which shops were trustworthy and reliable, especially when I was going to spend big sums of money," she said.

She eventually decided to tag along with her friend, a Singaporean who was born in Malaysia, and was surprised by the cheaper prices.

After three trips to various furniture and electrical shops in Johor, Ms Yang spent about RM17,600 ($5,700) on five fans, lights, a bed frame, a dining table and a cupboard for her new Housing Board home.

She also bought a sofa, a wardrobe, a dining set and a television console for her brother.

"I found that things, on the whole, were 40 per cent cheaper, which means I could use the savings for other things for my home," she said.

Ms Yang is among a growing number of Singaporeans making the trip across the Causeway for their furniture needs.

6 items S'poreans who want to save money shouldn't buy in S'pore

  • Many people think it's too "leceh" to drive across the Causeway to buy groceries. But it's probably because they don't know exactly how much money you can save by buying your food and toiletries in Johor Bahru.
  • A few years ago, you could save about 30 per cent on your groceries by buying in JB.
  • Now that the Malaysian Ringgit is lower than ever vis a vis the Singapore dollar, you can save much more, in many cases up to 50 per cent.
  • Unless you're talking about those awful assessment books for kids at Popular Bookstore, most books in Singapore have to be imported.
  • And they're not cheap-you can usually expect to pay about $15 to $20 for a paperback novel.
  • If you are ordering a fairly large shipment and don't mind second hand items, consider buying your books from Amazon's second hand section and then shipping them back using a service like Borderlinx or vPost.
  • For some reason, vitamins and dietary supplements are super expensive in Singapore. If you've ever walked into GNC, the prices are enough to give you a stroke.
  • If you're happy go buy all your furniture from Ikea, more power to you. But if you're the house-proud type who's willing to spend thousands of dollars on a sofa, consider buying your furniture and homeware in Bali or Thailand.
  • It's not just owning a car that's expensive in Singapore. It's also darned difficult to get your car serviced without being ripped off-many mechanics here are more concerned about getting you to replace parts than actually fixing your vehicle's problems.
  • If you know where to go, car and bike servicing in Malaysia can cost almost half the price. Although there are hundreds of popular recommendations, it's best to go with a friend who's familiar with a workshop in JB to be safe.
  • If you work in the sort of place where you actually have to show up looking decent, adding a few crisp tailored shirts or a slick suit to your wardrobe can make you look a bit more presentable.
  • But tailors in Singapore are expensive-you can usually expect to pay at least $1,000 for decent tailored suit.
  • Some people prefer Hoi An in Vietnam or even Shanghai, but Bangkok is the cheapest and easiest place to fly to and the destination Singaporeans are the most familiar with.

Another such Singaporean is Mr Yeo Zhen Xiong, 28, who bought lights and decorative ornaments from various shops in Johor last month as his family's condominium underwent renovation.

The New Paper visited three shops in Johor over the last month, and shop assistants there told us they have seen up to 30 per cent more Singaporean customers in recent months.

Ms Mandy Lua, a showroom supervisor of Maestro Perfect Home Store in Skudai, Johor, attributed this to the falling Malaysian ringgit against the Singapore dollar.

A Singapore dollar now fetches about RM3.10."This is also the period (in November and December) when Singaporeans look to buy things for their home," she said.


Another sales assistant of a shop that sells lighting, fans and electrical appliances also said he was seeing more Singaporean customers.

"Many Singaporeans now trust our quality. Our electronics are usually imported from other countries, such as our fans which are from Taiwan.

"So the quality is no different from purchasing elsewhere," he said.

Dr Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor of marketing and international business at the Nanyang Business School in the Nanyang Technological University, agreed that furniture prices are usually higher in Singapore.

This is due to the lack of furniture-making facilities and workers, importing of raw materials - such as wood - and high retail rental and manpower costs, she said.

The impact of the falling ringgit on Singapore

  • The Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) has slumped to an all time low at RM3.12 to the Singapore dollar (SGD).
  • This sounds like an excellent chance to head to Johor Bahru (JB) and make all the purchases while it lasts. The already cheap food and groceries just got cheaper and fuel is about a third of Singapore's price.
  • But while we might be rejoicing now that the MYR has spiraled downwards, but in the mid to longer term, the ones that would be suffering the most may be Singaporeans.
  • Many often forget that Malaysia is the third largest economy in South East Asia, and within the top three largest export destinations for Singapore's goods and services.
  • If Singapore's currency becomes too strong, there will be a reduction in Malaysian demand for Singapore's exports which will ultimately reduce Singapore's earning power.
  • The short term benefits may be apparent but in the long term, any weaknesses in the economies of our major trading partners will not be good news for Singapore.
  • But there are ways to take advantage of the weaker ringgit. As individuals, we can head to the moneychangers and buy up some MYR.
  • Singaporeans should definitely consider visiting JB for their delicious food and other goods.
  • JB has other attractions too, like Legoland, where a combo adult ticket, which allows you entry to the theme park and the water park, costs RM175 while the child and senior option costs RM140.
  • An entry ticket to the Hello Kitty Town costs RM75 for both adults and children.
  • Singaporeans can also consider investing in Malaysia. If we were to invest in the KLCI Index at Dec 31, 2006, we would have made a handsome return on about 48.6 per cent.


National University of Singapore Business School associate professor of finance Qian Wenlan and visiting professor Sumit Agarwal had said in an opinion piece published in TNP last month that non-branded items cost 20 per cent to 30 per cent less in Malaysia.

All these factors, as well as the close proximity of both countries, make it appealing for Singaporeans to go cross-border shopping, they had said.

Dr Wee said this trend would hit mom-and-pop furniture retailers here the hardest.

But one such shop owner, Mr H. S. Tee of Vickson Furnishing in Bukit Batok, said his business is unfazed by the competition.

"If anything happens to your purchases from Malaysia, it will be very hard to get them serviced here," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Tee added that his quality assurance would keep customers coming back.

Both Mr Yeo and Ms Yang said the main consideration of consumers, including themselves, would always be the price.

Ms Yang said she brought back most of the smaller items, such as the lights and fans, by car, and had the larger furniture pieces delivered.

Shops in Malaysia offer transportation for larger pieces, usually for a fee, although customers are subject to a 7 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) for items delivered into Singapore.

GST for goods valued below $150 is not applicable for travellers who are out of Singapore for less than 48 hours. For those who are away for more than 48 hours, GST is exempt for goods valued up to $600.

Ms Yang said: "Even after paying the 7 per cent GST, things were still cheaper.

"Price is everything. And so far, it has been a smooth experience buying furniture from Malaysia."

This article was first published on Jan 3. 2017
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