Lazada helps Asia’s malls go online after virus upends retail

[SINGAPORE] Clobbered by the crushing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of retailers from Bangkok to Singapore have rushed to set up online shops on big e-commerce platforms to stay afloat this year. Now entire shopping malls are going virtual for the first time.

Marina Square Shopping Mall – nestled among luxury hotels and popular tourist attractions in central Singapore – is taking more than 30 of its tenants online with Lazada, the South-east Asian unit of Alibaba Group Holding. It’s the first shopping centre in the city-state to create a mini virtual replica of its physical mall.

“It’s a new concept in Singapore,” James Chang, chief executive officer of Lazada Singapore, said in an interview. “From a shopping mall’s perspective, it could be seen as competition, but we worked out this partnership because it provides visibility and awareness of the tenants and offline mall.”

The lockdowns have meant devastating changes for the retail industry. In the US, more than 110 companies have declared bankruptcy this year, including JC Penney, Neiman Marcus Group and J Crew Group.

In Singapore, retail sales plunged 52.1 per cent in May from a year earlier, the most since records began in 1986. The island’s economy fell into recession last quarter as an extended lockdown shuttered businesses and decimated spending.