Shaping the Future of Retail: A Conversation with Chris Chong, CEO of Retail & Workspace, CapitaLand Investment (Singapore & Malaysia)

FuturePlace Interview Spotlight, Chris Chong

FuturePlace recently interviewed Chris Chong, CEO, Retail and Workspace (Singapore & Malaysia), CapitaLand Investment where he discussed the evolution of CapitaLand’s retail portfolio over the past 18 months. Chris emphasised CapitaLand’s strategic moves, including partnerships and repositioning efforts, to create vibrant lifestyle hubs beyond traditional shopping destinations. The interview also delved into CapitaLand’s digital initiatives, such as the CapitaStar ecosystem, leveraging data analytics and AI-driven technologies for personalised marketing. Join Chris at the Malls of the Future Summit to explore CapitaLand’s holistic commercial management platform and gain insights into their innovative real estate solutions.

FuturePlace: How has CapitaLand’s retail portfolio evolved in the past 18 months? How will your portfolio continue to evolve in 2024?

Chris Chong: Singapore’s retail industry continues to thrive on stability and positive market sentiment. We see healthy occupancies and positive rental reversions across major asset classes in our portfolio, including retail. The ongoing recovery in tourism activity is boosting retail performance, particularly in downtown malls. In 3Q 2023, our malls recorded a strong portfolio occupancy of 99%, and tenant sales continued to surpass pre-COVID level, growing 4% year-on-year, while shopper traffic continued to show steady recovery at a growth of 16% year-on-year. Given the continuing recovery in tourist arrivals, coupled with a limited retail supply in Singapore, we remain cautiously optimistic that the overall retail market momentum will remain positive in 2024.

Riding on this recovery, we are forging ahead to strengthen our leadership position in commercial management by adopting a holistic approach to our retail ecosystem and harnessing the scale and capabilities of our digital platform, CapitaStar. This can be seen from our recent partnership with Kallang Alive Sport Management (KASM) to manage around 41,000 sqm of commercial spaces at the Singapore Sports Hub, including Kallang Wave Mall, for six years starting from 1 April 2024, as we jointly set out to create the next sporting, entertainment and lifestyle icon in the region. Patrons of Kallang Wave Mall will enjoy attractive rewards through CapitaStar, and eCapitaVoucher.

As Singapore’s largest mall operator with an extensive network of retail partners, we continue collaborating with our stakeholders to ensure that we stay ahead of the curve by fostering a vibrant and sustainable retail ecosystem in Singapore. We have been actively repositioning our malls and transforming them into lifestyle hubs that extend beyond being mere shopping destinations. This includes the completed asset enhancement initiative at Raffles City Singapore as well as the ongoing transformation of CQ @ Clarke Quay into a day-to-night destination. The latest rejuvenation of Raffles City has strengthened its position as a one-stop destination for all-things luxury beauty. It now features one of the largest collections of beauty flagship boutiques in Singapore, showcasing an impressive array of local and international names, including, Sephora’s first Store of the Future concept in Asia, Givenchy Beauty’s first and only standalone flagship boutique in Singapore, Creed’s first standalone flagship boutique in Singapore and Diptyque’s Singapore flagship boutique.

The asset enhancement initiatives at CQ @ Clarke Quay, Singapore’s renowned riverfront dining and lifestyle hub, is in its final stages, gearing up for its official launch in 2Q 2024. This iconic destination is set to redefine day-to-night experiences and create a synergy with the ongoing urban renewal of the Singapore River precinct. The timely asset enhancement of CQ @ Clarke Quay will align seamlessly with the development of the adjacent integrated development, CanningHill Piers, a joint development by CapitaLand. This strategic move will attract a strong residential and hotel catchment, creating a dynamic environment for visitors and residents alike.

Enhancements include introducing tenants with an exciting blend of lifestyle and F&B concepts that best utilise the reinstated godown typology of the restored warehouses at Block B, improving daytime thermal comfort of the property’s inner streets, updating the outdoor refreshment areas (ORAs), and working with tenants to introduce pet-friendly amenities. New stores include a grocer with in-store dining concept curated by FairPrice Finest, and a new music lifestyle concept by Swee Lee.

Experiential retail is also key in attracting and engaging shoppers in the post-pandemic world, and this is part of the business strategy that retailers are increasingly adopting. As the largest commercial landlord in Singapore, our malls continue to draw retailers looking to launch their flagship stores or new-to-market concepts in Singapore. In 2023, we welcomed more than 330 new stores from diverse trade categories ranging from fashion and beauty to dining and entertainment, rejuvenating Singapore’s retail scene while updating the trade mix across our malls. Recent new-to-market retail additions include Pas Normal Studios at Funan, CREED, HARNN and NEIWAI flagship store at Raffles City, as well as Sun & Sand Sports opening new stores at Bugis+, Raffles City and Westgate.

FuturePlace: What are the major technologies and applications that CapitaLand is using to monitor and optimise your portfolio operations? How does CapitaLand’s retail asset utilise data to create great experiences for tenants and customers?

Chris Chong: As part of our ongoing digitalisation efforts to provide value-adding services for our customers and retail partners, we continue to grow our CapitaStar ecosystem in Singapore. CapitaStar is Singapore’s leading lifestyle and rewards programme, currently serving more than 1.5 million CapitaStar members and supports over 3,500 stores operating in 31 committed properties. This includes four shopping malls under Cuscaden Peak Investments (Paragon, The Clementi Mall, The Rail Mall and The Seletar Mall), Entrepôt at The Robertson House by The Crest Collection, Changi City Point as well as Kallang Wave Mall (1 April 2024 onwards).

To stay at the forefront of industry and market trends, we remain dedicated to continuous innovation within our CapitaStar ecosystem, complementing and augmenting our real-estate footprint of well-located properties at key transport nodes. Guided by data analytics and AI-driven technologies, we leverage these insights to deliver enhanced value to our tenants and partners through effective personalised and targeted marketing communications, ensuring that our offerings consistently resonate with our members.

Our CapitaStar For Business initiative offers businesses and retailers operating within or beyond the CapitaLand network a suite of enterprise data-driven digital marketing solutions, including personalised targeted marketing channels to elevate brand awareness, advertising outreach and drive sales conversions.  In 2023, CapitaStar For Business solutions experienced a significant uplift of over 100% in generated revenue, indicating a strong demand for holistic digital solutions from businesses and retailers availed through the CapitaStar ecosystem to drive sales optimisation and consumer engagement opportunities.


FuturePlace: What can attendees of the Malls of the Future Summit 2024 expect to take away from your presentation?

Chris Chong: In today’s landscape, it is important for us to constantly innovate retail and lifestyle experiences, ensuring that we continue to attract and retain our customers, present and future. I will be pleased to share more about CapitaLand’s holistic commercial management platform, and how partners can leverage the scale and unique value proposition of our retail and workspace ecosystem, complemented by our comprehensive all-in-one digital platform, CapitaStar.

Tapping our real estate operational expertise, Malls of the Future Summit attendees can look forward to my presentation of CapitaLand’s extensive range of real estate solutions, from major asset enhancements to asset repositioning. Notable examples include the redevelopment of Funan, the latest refresh at Raffles City Singapore, and the ongoing transformation of CQ @ Clarke Quay.

I look forward to connecting with everyone in Sydney, where we can collectively drive impact across the region and take our businesses to new heights.

Chris will be speaking at the Malls of the Future Summit, taking place on 6 March 2024 in Sydney.

It brings together the brightest minds in the industry to explore the continued evolution of bricks and mortar retail in a fast-changing world. It will explore the factors driving investment in innovative new-build and redeveloped shopping precincts that are going beyond the norm to offer a more personalised and sensory customer experience that creates reasons for local communities to visit, stay longer, feel connected and return time and time again.

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