Fresh face of retail

An old-school barber catering to contemporary gentlemen, monogramming services and bespoke furniture.

No, these aren't the highlights of an intimidatingly upscale store targeting the consummate hipster - you know, the kind who wears a Leica slung around his neck and who could elucidate the complex layers of an artisanal coffee.

Instead, they're the star attractions of Metro's latest store at The Centrepoint.

First, Robinsons was transformed into a hangout for the ultra-chic. Now, Tangs has revealed two floors dedicated to fashion brands usually the sole reserve of cult multi-label emporiums.

And Metro - yes, the store better known for great value and garments in forgiving silhouettes, has revealed some semblance of being on-trend with its latest venture. Forget indie boutiques. Could the department store be on the zeitgeist of retail?

"Metro has always been a go-to department store for discerning shoppers who understand quality and appreciate the well-made selection of merchandise we carry," proclaims Hugh Kwan, branch manager of Metro Centrepoint, which opened earlier this month."

"We will continue to reach out to them and at the same time, attract the young working adults with our contemporary and private labels as well as modern homemakers looking for a well-curated selection of home, living and kids' products."

Still retaining a wide range of products catering not just to the young trendite (there are still podiatrist-approved pumps and chintzy evening dresses perfect for the mother of the bride a-plenty), Metro is however taking baby steps towards cool-ville by offering S$60 shaves by its "barbers-in-residence", homegrown London-inspired barber Sultans of Swing.

The six-storey store also includes a monogram and embroidery service to personalise gifts, and a specialist furniture design section to pick out colours and fabrics for your bespoke couch, chair or headboard.

"Everyone knows that the retail environment is notoriously difficult and retailers need to constantly innovate with new ideas, concepts and experiences," adds Mr Kwan.

"We're not blind to consumer trends. Shoppers still enjoy shopping in brick-and mortar, attending events and participating in store activities. To this end, we will continue to offer a wide selection of brands in-store, bespoke services, curated events, shopper conveniences such as playroom and nursery."

Most recently, as part of a three-year transformation of its flagship Orchard store which cost an estimated S$45 million, Tangs has revealed the third phase of its revamp with two fashion floors, each dedicated to men's and womenswear.

It carries a stable of new labels like Aijek, a womenswear brand by homegrown designer Danielle Woo; and exclusive brands like Collette by Collette Dinnigan, the bridge line by the Australian designer, and the shoe brand favoured by Kate Middleton, LK Bennett.

"We consider ourselves curators, providing only the best merchandise offerings for our customers," says Foo Tiang Sooi, chief executive officer of Tangs.

"As one of Singapore's oldest homegrown department stores and an icon close to the heart of every Singaporean, our heritage remains a key differentiator. Thus, our store will always be a reflection of who we are as contemporary Asians and Singaporeans. It is the overall experience at Tangs that sets us apart - that familiar feeling when one walks into a store, and instantly feels comfortable."

With oriental patterns on lattices and pillars, there is a clear reference to the building's architecture and the family-owned company's heritage.

But it certainly bears the hallmarks of a new age lifestyle store, boasting pH Lab's capsule salon where customers can enjoy hair treatments on the spot; a nail bar; and The Providore, a new bistro concept within the outlet.

A new pop-up store concept, Bynd Artisan, on Level 4 offers an option to custom-make luxe notebooks with different materials, textures and finishes. Personalisation options are also available with gold or silver embossing, which makes it a great gifting option.

And while Metro has taken over Robinsons' former location in The Centrepoint, which lost its lustre in recent decades, the company is confident that the Somerset area is undergoing resurgence.

"The Centrepoint has always been iconic on Orchard Road. It has a variety of interesting shops and F&B outlets. It is also conveniently located with proximity to the Somerset MRT station," says Mr Kwan.

"Not to mention the new malls - Orchard Gateway, 313@Somerset and Orchard Central. The Somerset area is teeming with shoppers and diners. Together with linkways and sky bridges, the whole area is just going to get better."

With online shopping overshadowing traditional retail, department stores can no longer focus simply on a sexy brick-and-mortar outlet.

The e-commerce market in Singapore is set to grow to S$4.4 billion by 2015, according to a survey by digital payment company Paypal, and 78 per cent of respondents said they shop online at least once a month.

"Metro is quick to embrace new technology and we have been implementing digital initiatives in our stores for some time now," says Mr Kwan.

The stores have been using mobile POS, where sales assistants are able to process payments for purchases away from cash registers, during busy shopping hours, for quick checkouts.

It also launched a mobile shopping app on IOS this year, allowing shoppers to browse and purchase popular products from their mobile devices, while a full e-commerce site is set to be launched very soon.

"Shoppers of today expect a holistic, immersive experience when they enter a store; it is no longer merely about buying just a product," adds Mr Foo. "They want to be pampered, entertained and have their senses excited."

This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014. Get The Business Times for more stories.