The recent news about Sim Lim Square, and in particular of Mobile Air and Mobile 22, may have left you concerned about shopping at the mall. However, shopping at this electronics paradise is relatively safe and easy, if you follow some simple rules. First, avoid Levels 1 and 2. In fact, just pretend that Sim Lim Square begins from Level 3.
If I could only offer just one advise about shopping at Sim Lim Square, that would be it. Singaporeans know it. Unfortunately, non-locals don’t. They just hear about how Sim Lim Square is a great place to shop for electronics, particularly computer and mobile gadgets.
The TL;DR version of shopping at this mall, unfortunately, is a little complicated. Even if you go to the right stores that don’t outright scam customers, it’s still easy to fall prey to other sales strategies (or tactics, to use a less kind word), and thus end up with not the best value or less than desirable shopping experience.
This post is pretty much about buying computers, mobile gadgets, and related accessories. I know Sim Lim Square shops also sell AV equipment, cameras, audio, etc. I don’t go to Sim Lim Square to buy those stuffs.
Here’s my list of rules for shopping at Sim Lim Square.
Rule 1: Do not patronise any shops on Level 1 and 2.
Yes, it’s that bad, and it’s that simple. Shop anywhere you want. Just not the first two levels. As I said before, just pretend that Sim Lim Square begins from Level 3 and upward. Oh, if you need to take a break, the food court in the basement is fine. These’s some great food there.
Rule 2: Do your homework.
Do your own homework, at home, before you hit the mall. Figure out what it is you want to buy, and how much they ought to cost. Don’t make Sim Lim Square your learning ground. It is a shopping mall. Not a tuition centre. What I mean is, don’t let the shops teach you or give you a lesson. This is the age of the Internet, and Google. Go online to read reviews, check out community forums, ask techie friends.
Rule 3: Check and compare prices.
Don’t walk into the first shop and buy immediately. Check out at least two other shops. This is called due diligence. If the item you’re looking for is not particularly rare, then it shouldn’t be difficult to find the same item in another shop. Once upon a time, as a poor student, I would diligently check out a dozen shops or so before I decide. These days, I don’t have time for that, but I still check at least two others, just to know that in the worst case scenario, I’m not getting the worst deal. Don’t forget to ask if the prices are cash only, whether GST applies and is inclusive, and whether there’s a surcharge for NETS and credit card transactions. Yeah, pricing can be complicated.
Rule 4: Bait and switch.
The bait and switch tactic is basically this. The shop advertises a very attractive (i.e. low) price on an item. When you go in to enquire, they’ll tell you it’s out of stock. Then they suggest an alternative product. The alternative could be a better or lower-end model, or it could be pricier or cheaper. Whatever it is, the shop probably gains more from selling that alternative, and possibly you’re worse off with that alternative. But at that point in time, you could be easily convinced that the alternative is just as good a deal, or perhaps you’ll think it’s almost as good, and thus good enough so you go with it. I hate bait and switch. My advise, walk away, think about the deal again, re-evaluate your options, and check out other shops.
Rule 5: Check the warranty.
No, this isn’t about warranty scams that made headlines. It’s simply about different warranty types offered by different sellers. For example, one shop may offer a longer warranty period than another. Or they may include a limited 7-day one-to-one exchange at the shop, aside from the standard manufacturer warranty. Check out these terms. Make sure, of course, that the warranty is in black and white. The shop’s own additional warranty ought to be printed out in the sales receipt.
[In light of the Mobile Air et al warranty scam, please remember that you shouldn’t need to sign any sales agreement, warranty agreement, or agreement of any sort. The only thing that needs signing is your credit card charge slip if you’re paying by credit card.]
Rule 6: On-the-spot Research
This is related to the bait-and-switch problem. Perhaps you really do need or want to consider the alternate product that you had not seriously considered prior to your shopping trip. You hadn’t done research. Then, for goodness sake, do it on the spot. You probably have a 3G/4G mobile phone and/or tablet with you, do the research right there. I make it a point to at least bring a tablet, if not a notebook, so that I can go somewhere to do some online research when needed. There’s a food court in the basement, go there, grab a coffee, sit down and do whatever online research you need. Not all the Sim Lim Square retailers are out to scam customers, but some of their staff are truly clueless themselves, but they act very cool and knowledgeable. It’s your money, you do your research.
Rule 7: Bring an Expert
If you’re clueless about tech stuff, then I suggest to bring along your favourite techie. It might not be that hard to find someone excited to share his or her expertise. Some people, for example, may love to build PCs, even if it isn’t their own, and they might be equally excited to help you build your dream PC.
My personal recommendation is to start your shopping at home. Many shops put up their pricing lists online. Some of my favourite shops include Fuwell and Best Bargain. The former is great for general PC components, while Best Bargain is particularly great value for hard disks and RAM. This bit of research should give you an idea of the prices to expect.
Set aside ample time for your shopping trip. It’s no good to rush, or be tightly constrained by time. You don’t want to rush a decision if you’re going for a big purchase. (Of course, if you’re headed there just to pick up a 2TB hard disk to replace a broken one at home, then it should be a pretty simple and quick errand.)
These days with online shopping and convenient freight forwarding, be sure to check out your options buying online. You can find many bargains from Qoo10, Rakuten, Newegg, or Amazon. Buying from non-local online sellers may pose some challenges with shipping and warranty, but sometimes the bargains are so great that it’s still worthwhile to go this route.
Remember that there are free shipping options to Singapore. Amazon’s AmazonGlobal Saver program, for example, provides for free shipping to Singapore on a respectable range of products. Online shopping, especially from overseas, does mean shipping takes a little while, so this works only if you have time to wait.
Lastly, understand that some products are price-controlled. For example, Apple’s current selling products are very tightly controlled by Apple themselves. There is practically no way you can expect a price discount. You may possibly get “free gifts”, but often not an actual price discount.
By and large, the retailers are not out to swindle you. But just as you’re there to get the best deal for yourself, they too want the best deal for themselves. The staff at these shops are likely far more motivated to sell than those at Harvey Norman or Best Denki. So just keep that in mind.
Despite all the bargains and conveniences of online shopping, I still wouldn’t rule out patronising Sim Lim Square. It will certainly help to do some homework and carefully navigate your way around Sim Lim Square to get the best shopping experience out of the mall.