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Funan mall’s S$560m makeover pleases some but others miss the old place

SINGAPORE — The new Funan mall, which shed its identity as an IT haven and took on a new persona after a S$560 million hipster revamp, has wooed some new fans among shoppers and retained tenants, but some old-timers lament that they miss the old Funan.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister (centre), pictured as he officially opened the revamped Funan mall on Friday (Dec 27) alongside senior corporate figures.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister (centre), pictured as he officially opened the revamped Funan mall on Friday (Dec 27) alongside senior corporate figures.

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SINGAPORE — The new Funan mall, which shed its identity as an IT haven and took on a new persona after a S$560 million hipster revamp, has wooed some new fans among shoppers and retained tenants, but some old-timers lament that they miss the old Funan.

Funan was officially launched on Friday (Dec 27) by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister, although it has been operating for six months since it first welcomed shoppers in June.

Some of the mall’s new tenants say they have found success already. For bicycle shop Brompton Junction, an indoor cycling path at Funan has been a boon for customers. The path operates only during certain hours, with a 10km/h speed restriction.

Mr Isaac Abdullah, the store manager of Brompton Junction told TODAY that their location at the mall’s ground level — near the cycling path — has meant that customers can test their bicycles before making a purchase.

“They can get a feel of the bike and decide if they like it or not, as opposed to just looking at it in store,” he said. 

But other retailers, such as Alan Photo, which has been in the mall for decades, are not so enthusiastic about the new look.

Mr Anthony Yeo, a long-time salesperson at the photography store told TODAY on Friday that since the store returned to the revamped mall, sales have dropped by “more than half” and that since the renovations, “they don’t draw the big crowds as before”.

“The building is nice but the crowd is not as good as before. The regulars when they come here, they feel disappointed, they find more food stores than gadget shops. It is more like a lifestyle food, fashion mall now, no longer like an IT mall.”

Mr Yeo also said that before the renovations, the mall would see a “large crowd who just got off work” on Fridays but he said that does not happen anymore.

“Alan Photo has been in the market for 30 over years that’s why we have some regulars to sustain (the business). We actually expect newcomers (with the mall's revamp)… but unfortunately I think all the young people buy online,” he said. 

While Alan Photo also has an online store, he said that sometimes, customers come in to test a camera, only to source the product on the internet for a better deal.

An artificial intelligence-enabled hands-free shopping experience on offer at Funan mall. Photo: Najeer Yusof/ TODAY

But for Ms Johanna Lau, head designer at local womenswear label Beyond the Vines, one of the main draws of setting up its flagship store at Funan was the diversity of its patrons.

"We have stores in Orchard but here it’s a different crowd… There are a lot of tourists here. You get the young, the very tech-savvy people and you get a really interesting mix of people. Families as well,” she said. 

According to a press release from CapitaMall Trust, which owns the mall, Funan’s average shopper traffic has seen a 70 per cent increase since the redevelopment compared with Funan’s previous incarnation as Funan the IT Mall.

An Apple repair service, Mac Infinity, is a returning tenant at Funan and said it recorded a 10 per cent increase in profits in the first three months of operations since the mall reopened. However, profits have decreased slightly since.

Mr Victor Hong, the owner of Mac Infinity, said this is “normal”, given that the hype around the revamp would dwindle over time.

“We chose to come back to Funan because of the location and many of our regulars who have come to us since the old Funan. But now, aside from regulars and people who find us online, there are more young adult customers. I would say 20 to 30 per cent more,” he said.

Of the 133 retail stores at Funan, more than 40 per cent of the brands have both online and offline presences as a way to cater to tech-savvy shoppers.

Mr Hong said about 20 per cent of their customers find them online, where they can also book an appointment at the store.

The Amore Store X Lazada at Funan, for example, has a retail concept where customers can come to the physical store to try out beauty products that are sold on Lazada, an e-commerce website. While regular stores have price tags beside their products, the ones at the concept store are displayed with QR codes that link patrons to the product page on Lazada.

At the official launch of the mall on Friday, Ms Teo Swee Lian, chairman of CapitaLand Mall Trust said that the mall is “not just a mall but a space for discovery, learning and shopping, underpinned by a digital layer of customer experience”.

Calling the makeover a "bold step" to undertake in 2016 at a time when the mall was profitable, Ms Teo said: "It is this anticipation of changing consumer trends that has resulted in crowds, in particular young people, who have once again returned to Funan."

WHAT PATRONS SAY

On Friday, patrons whom TODAY spoke to had mixed feelings about the mall's new look.  

For Ms Ariel Soh, 37, the new mall meant more places to eat during her lunch break and more places to shop.

“The feeling is very different from other malls. It’s a mix of tech plus fashion plus food, feels a bit younger,” she said.

Ms Julie Lee, 60, also works around the area and she felt that the mall offered “new interesting shops that you just don’t mind to try”.

Asked how the old Funan differed from the new one, she said that they were of “two different worlds”.

“The old one is so old, I call it quite a dead town. Because if it’s nothing related to IT, you don’t need to come,” she said.

However, Mr Muhammad Hizaifah, 27, said that he frequented the old Funan more.

“Last time Funan is more of an IT mall, but now it's like any normal shopping centre… It’s good that there are more shops around but I think that most of the old retailers that used to be here are mostly gone,” he said.

While Ms Tchea Yu, 24, agreed that the mall has changed, she felt that it was "for the better". 

She said: “The design and layout have changed drastically but… it looks pretty cool now with the rock climbing wall and indoor cycling lanes."

 

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funan mall redevelopment retailers

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