During our five days in Singapore, American culture has been unavoidable. From live music in bars and radio tunes in cabs to fashion and entertainment, one can almost feel as if she is in the good ole USA instead of thousands of miles away. However, we’ve been learning from our wonderful tour guide, Agnes, about the many restrictions placed on Singaporeans that make life very different from the lives we have in the U.S.
Today we visited two iconic American retail stores – Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. BBW was very much the same as the stores we see in our local malls in Columbus, with the exception of being smaller. The same familiar products, such as shower gel, lotion, and fragrance mist, were still present in classic scents like Japanese Cherry Blossom and Warm Vanilla Sugar. Pop music blared through the sound system and associates in familiar aprons helped potential patrons find their perfect items.
The VS concept was somewhat different than the U.S. in that the store format was significantly smaller and the SKUs much fewer. This was a strategic decision by L Brands to launch a VS Beauty & Accessories concept as its first foray into the Asian market as opposed to the traditional larger format we’ve come to love in the U.S. VSBA only offers beauty products (primarily fragrances), accessories (wallets, purses, etc.), and panties. There are no bras, lingerie, or loungewear. Representatives from each store told similar stories about the launch of these two powerful brands in Singapore. Very little marketing was needed because the customer base already knew the brands so well (the VS Fashion Show, for example is wildly popular). The brands are aspirational for Singaporeans. VSBA launched 5 years ago and has been expanding throughout Asia ever since. BBW launched just last February and has plans to open four new stores in the next several weeks. Overall, business is quite good, and the influence of American culture has played a major role in that success.
However, all of this American aspiration and influence is quickly countered by the realization that Singaporeans live under a litany of regulations from the government. For example, cars are high-priced (S$80,000 for a Kia; over S$300,000 for a BMW) and highly taxed. Citizens have to apply and pay a large fee to even earn the right to bid on a car as the number of cars entering the market are restricted. Gasoline is very expensive at nearly S$8/gal and also carries heavy taxes. All of these measures are an effort to incentivize citizens to avoid driving and creating congestion on the roads. Housing is also regulated. In order to become a homeowner (read: apartment owner, as 80% of the population lives in apartments), one must be married or be older than age 35 if single. As another example, citizens are required to pay a S$100/day or S$2000 annual fee to earn the right to gamble in the Marina Bay Sands resort. To further discourage this behavior, the government allows family and friends to place a block on their loved ones to prevent them from gambling if they become addicted.
So many of these regulations and restrictions just wouldn’t fly in the U.S. There would be massive outcry. Some rules clearly infringe on the personal freedoms we Americans hold dear, even though these rules are for the greater good in many cases. There is so much American influence here, but as we learned today, the freedoms are not quite the same. It’s eye-opening that we had to travel around the world to get a better appreciation for things we take for granted every day back home. But, it’s this kind of knowledge that can sometimes only be gained first-hand rather than being taught in a book.
Here are a few more pictures from today’s events.