(ST Photos: Alphonsus Chern)
First there was Daiso. Then came Miniso. And just last week, Japanese discount retail chain Don Don Donki threw its hat into the ring of discount retailers that have opened in Singapore.
Don Don Donki’s entry into the local market with its 24-hour Orchard Central store indicates yet another chance for Singaporeans to snag good deals at a cut-price chain retailer.
Daiso, which entered the Singapore market in 2002 with its store in IMM in Jurong, is known for its standard $ 2 price tag across all its items. It now has 15 stores across the island, including at prime locations such as Ion Orchard and Plaza Singapura.
Known around the world as the “Japanese dollar store”, it sells a wide assortment of about 70,000 household items, which includes everything from ceramic tableware and storage solutions to pet clothes and chair socks. Overall revenue for the brand climbed 6.3 per cent in the financial year 2017.
Miniso, the Japanese lifestyle and fast-fashion brand that sells merchandise such as homeware, bags and electronics at low prices, has also expanded rapidly since its entry into the market in December 2015. There are now 27 stores here.
And though the brand has gotten flak for its dubious origins and logo – Miniso touts itself as a Japanese brand, but has only four stores in Tokyo compared with more than 1,000 in China, plus its logo looks suspiciously similar to that of Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo – it does not seem to have affected the brand’s retail success here.
Sales at Miniso Singapore averaged about $ 3 million a month this year and the brand projects that this will rise to $ 4.5 million a month next year.
The company’s director, Mr Alex Zhang, says it is not concerned about Don Don Donki entering the fray as it is in a different retail category and will not engage in head-to-head competition with the other retailers.
For now, he says, the brand plans to open two more outlets by year-end and is targeting to open 10 more outlets next year – eventually taking the total store count to 60 islandwide.
For Don Don Donki chairman Takao Yasuda, though, being the newest contender in the market is not a worrying prospect.
“Unlike Daiso and Miniso, Don Don Donki operates almost like a full grocery store and sells fresh produce, meats and even alcohol. Though we might be all considered discount stores, we have different business models,” he says.
“I think there is definitely a place for all retailers to thrive here if you can create a niche.”
The brand already has plans to open a second outlet in 100 AM mall in June and to expand into Thailand by November next year.
Locally, Mr Yasuda says he hopes to have about 10 stores here in the next two to three years.
As for consumers, the spectrum of options is just another reason to rejoice.
Madam Betty Ngeow, 64, who is a regular shopper at Daiso and Miniso, says having the chance to toggle among stores for the best deals is the upside of having more discount retailers here.
“I like to go to Daiso to buy more disposable household and gardening items, but Miniso is a good place to get more hardy items such as travel pillows and travel-sized toiletries containers, which I will use again and again,” she says.
“Both stores have their pros and cons – Daiso has a wider selection of products, but I feel the quality of items at Miniso is slightly better. I’m looking forward to seeing how Don Don Donki compares.”
For bargain-hunters such as language-school teacher Mae Wang, though, reading the hype surrounding the opening of Don Don Donki got her so excited that she decided to apply for a day’s leave to check out the store.
“Going to the store at an off-peak time in the early morning allows me to beat the crowds and hopefully suss out what the good deals are at the new store,” the 31-year-old says.
The massive crowds she faced at 9am on Monday indicated that many others had the same idea as her, but the avid shopper was not fazed.
“Even though some of the reported bargains such as super cheap Japanese snacks were all snapped up already, I still think there were some good deals to be had – especially for Japanese produce and wines, which are definitely cheaper here than at bigger Japanese retailers and supermarkets,” she says, showing off her basket of fresh fruit and meats, plum wine and an assortment of ramen noodles.
“The crowds will likely die down soon, but I don’t mind queuing either way. It’s worth it to get things at a cheaper price.”
DON DON DONKI
Spread across two floors, the new 1,397 sq m Don Don Donki store at Orchard Central sells almost anything you can think of – from fresh produce and household grocery items to cosmetics, exercise equipment and even costumes – that are all designed or made in Japan.
Overall though, the shopping experience can be a little overwhelming. Bustling crowds aside, the store feels cramped despite its large size – perhaps because there are more than 30,000 different items being sold in one space.
The entry area near the fresh produce, meats and cooked food on Basement 2 is spacious enough, but the aisles with grocery items and snacks are very tight and can make browsing rather difficult.
The situation is more dire upstairs, where myriad non-food items are sold. Though the selection is wide, the space seems too small to properly display the variety of goods for sale.
That said, the colourful hand-drawn signs and bustling crowds give the store an air of shopping in a busy store along Shinjuku in Tokyo – which adds to its charm. Plus the wide selection of products from Hokkaido and the range of Japanese whiskies, sake and wines definitely make it worth a visit.
Shopper’s verdict: Too early to tell.
The range and quality of items are great, but, as shopper Gaya Kumar, 39, says: “Some items cost the same as in regular local grocery stores – not everything is cheaper.”
The cramped layout does not help either, but it might get easier to shop at Don Don Donki as the crowds die out a little after the first few weeks.
1. Marukome miso paste, 650g, $ 4.90
2. Fresh fruits from Japan
•Japanese Sien grapes (above left), 300g, $ 11.86
•Japanese pears (packet of two, above right), $ 5.90
3. Hokkaido snacks
•Farm Village Camembert Cheese Tarte (above left), $ 11.80
•Hokkaido Milk Maple Cake (above right), $ 19.80
4. Horse oil pack of 50 face masks, $ 12.90
•Riska corn potage snacks (above left), $ 1.50
•Tohato caramel corn snacks (above right), $ 1.70
6. Sapporo plum wine, 720ml, $ 28
Walking past a Miniso outlet, it would not be surprising to assume it is a lifestyle offshoot of Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo. Besides the uncanny similarity of their logos, the stores also have a similar look – clean, white interiors, bright lights and warm, light wood accents.
Miniso has 27 stores in Singapore – located in the heartland as well as in central shopping centres such as Lucky Plaza and Plaza Singapura – all of which tend to be quite small, averaging 1,000 sq ft.
The brand stocks general lifestyle products, including homewares, travel essentials and electronics, and nothing is priced over $ 50.
Overall, despite a rather large selection of items stocked in a small retail space, the shopping experience is quite pleasant, with sampling encouraged so items can be seen and felt up close.
Prices are slightly higher compared with those at Daiso. For example, a silicon oven mitt costs $ 3.90 at Miniso compared with a similar one in Daiso, but not having a price cap of $ 2 means the brand is able to sell items such as power banks, weighing scales and Bluetooth speakers at pocket-friendly prices – ranging from $ 10 to $ 40.
Another upside at Miniso is the quality of many items, such as kitchen essentials and travel pillows, seems to be high.
Shopper’s verdict: Worth it for the quality.
Even though the product selection is smaller than that of competing Japanese discount stores, the items are still relatively cheap and of good quality for the price. It is a good place to snag bargains on lifestyle items such as travel essentials that you will use frequently.
Student Sarita Devi, 23, who was stocking up on wet tissues, a neck pillow and refillable travel containers ahead of a holiday to Phuket next week, says she prefers the quality of Miniso products compared with other brands.
“It is cheap, you can get everything under one roof and I feel that the items are comparable in quality with things from Japanese department store Muji, but at lower prices.”
1. Six-piece travel kit, $ 3.90
2. Cotton neck pillow with eyepatch, $ 4.90
3. Tempered glass bodyweight scale, $ 13.90
4. Needlework box, $ 5.90
5. Silicon oven mitts, $ 3.90
The land of $ 2 items, Daiso is every bargain-hunter’s paradise. The brand has 15 stores in Singapore, all of which are spacious in their set-up.
Overall, the sheer spectrum of items makes shopping at any Daiso outlet quite fun – you can buy everything from snacks to kitchen utensils to a dog leash for just $ 2.
However, not everything is worth the price tag. Some beauty products – for example, false eyelashes, cotton pads, beauty sponges and nail clippers – can often be cheaper if bought in larger quantities at local pharmacy stores or smaller local mom-and-pop shops in neighbourhood shopping centres.
The quality of items is also not always the best and, sometimes, it might be worth putting in a few more dollars to invest in something more hardy and well made, especially if you intend to use that item often.
However, there are still bargains to be uncovered at Daiso, especially in its stationery, Japanese ceramics and kitchen utensils sections.
Some of the tableware designs can pass off as designer pieces and the knives and baking trays, for example, are a steal at $ 2.
Shopper’s verdict: Bargain prices, but quality is hit and miss.
The $ 2 price tag makes Daiso a crowd favourite as there is something for everyone in the store’s huge array of items.
For Mr Yusof Ibrahim, 44, who was shopping at Daiso with his family last weekend, it is also the Japanese association with the brand that makes the items more attractive.
“Even though I know most of these products are likely made in China, I still think products designed and sold by Japanese brands are associated with attention to detail, good quality and innovativeness,” he says, showing off the Japanese ceramic plates and bowls he bought for his home.
The store also has a wide selection of items during seasonal holidays such as Halloween and Christmas, which is a hit with customers.
1. Kitchen knife, $ 2
2. Ellefar Princess Liquid Eyeliner in black, $ 2
3. Ceramic tableware, $ 2 each
•Ceramic soup bowl (above left)
•Ceramic side plate (above right)
4. Eight pieces of mini hand warmers, $ 2
5. Decorative items, $ 2 each
•Flower ribbons (small, 12 pieces, above right)
•Ribbon Tape (above left)
6. Vacuum compression bag with valve, $ 2
Written by Anita Varma for The Straits Times