Saturday, July 17, 2010

Four things that Singaporean tourists will buy when they visit London

A couple of years ago, I was backpacking in the east coast of Australia with two other army buddies and came across this beautiful lambskin in Sydney. Come to think of it, it was probably one of those things that tourists would go for - much like the red telephone box keychains that tourists go for in London. At AUD 30, I thought that I got myself a pretty decent deal until I came across an identical item in Singapore upon returning at only two third the price. That got me pretty wound up about buying souvenirs when I'm overseas.


However, after playing hosts to a couple of Singaporeans who visited London, I came to realise that Singaporeans tend to go for certain items in London. Most Singaporeans have got this impression that London is expensive. Well, to be honest, other than food (London can't beat Singapore's hawker centres in  terms of pricing), I dare say that a shopping spree in London would set you back much less than a similar stunt in Singapore. With the weak pound to Singapore dollar exchange rate, the Singapore tourist would find that his dollar would stretch a whole lot more over here in London.

Curiously, most Singaporeans know exactly what they need to get even before they alight at Heathrow. In  fact, they go for four main things, which are surprisingly specific.

1. Nespresso machines

For some reason, this caffeine machine is a rage back home. Everyone has got to get one. I have no idea Nespresso has done but its marketing done in Singapore is heading the right way. I mean, even people who aren't really into coffee are looking into getting one and it's now cool to have a Nespresso machine at home.

Even with the exchange rates taken into account, it is still way cheaper in London as compared to Singapore. A quick check on the Nespresso website shows that the Citiz model costs S$584 (£292) in Singapore while the equivalent is sold only for £135 in John Lewis. A friend of mine recently carted three back home after pre-ordering it and have delivered to his hotel before he arrived in London.

It's not just the machine we are talking about. Even the capsules are cheaper in London. At £3 per box of 10, it's still cheaper to load up on your trip to London.

2. Branded bags (and shoes too!)

We are talking about all brands here. Singaporeans' love affair for Louis Vuitton and Burberry went on full display once we are let loose at Selfriges. These brands are sold at huge discounts (up to two third off!) as compared to in Singapore not to mention that those back home are probably a season back.

Wife observed that Londoners aren't exactly fans of LV, unlike the French. But that doesn't stop the Singaporeans from jostling with the hordes of Chinese that descended upon the capital during sale periods. Of course, the more savvy ones will head towards the Burberry warehouse at Bethnal Green instead. See list of London Discount Outlet shops.

3. Harrods biscuits (tins)

There's this little Harrods counter over at Takashimaya, a mega shopping mall along Singapore's Orchard Road and its offerings are nothing to be compared to its flagship store's over at London's Kensington. It was rumoured that you could get anything at Harrods, provided you have the means.

Well, like most tourists, the Singaporean tourist would be fascinated with Harrods' Food Hall. Though they might not lunch at its overpriced oyster bars, they would invariably get a couple of tins of biscuits for the folks back home. Not the boring o' green tins mind you, but the one with London's icons - red telephone boxes and post boxes.

The contents doesn't matter really. In fact, they don't even care about the biscuits. It's the containers really.

4. Macaroons

If Nespresso is the current machine to have, then macaroon would be the next big thing on Singaporeans' plate. However, compared to those found in Europe, those sold in Singapore paled in comparison in terms of variety and taste. After hearing fantastic reviews about TWG's macaroons, I headed to its store at Singapore's Ion Orchard and left disappointed. Its texture couldn't be compared with Laduree, which can be found at London's Burlington Arcade not to mention Pierre Hermé, which has recently set up a counter at Selfridges' Food Hall and a shop in London's Belgravia.

While some may endeavor to bring some back home, most wouldn't risk the macaroons turning stale on the 13hr flight and prefer to savour them on the spot. A wise move in my opinion.


Did I miss out on anything? Is there anything else that is a 'must buy' in London for tourists (Singaporeans or otherwise)? Read also 5 things to bring for Singaporeans in London if you are flying from Singapore.

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TOLANIC said...

What about British Waffle?!! =)

Chris said...

We have Singaporean friends who visit London regularly. One of them loads up on PG Tips teabags, of all things. He loves them but apparently they're either prohibitively expensive or unavailable in Singapore. He also goes to Fortnum & Mason and piles up on their preserves and the like.

I wasn't aware that Nespresso machines were the rage. While I like their convenience, I am concerned that in a couple of years the company may stop making the machines and the capsules, and lots of consumers will be left with large pieces of useless metal on their kitchen counters. I am probably wrong, but I prefer to use a stovetop espresso maker.

C K said...

And what about British waffle? :)

PG Tips, how could I have missed that? While I'm not a fan of it, Wife swore by it. Fortnum itself is an institution, isn't it? But I didn't know that Singaporeans go for its preserves as well.

When Starbucks debut in Singapore a decade ago (I think?), gourmet coffee became the 'in' thing to consume and coffee machines brought the convenience to the comforts of one's home. While I'm sure it wouldn't taste as good as those freshly brewed from a coffee presser, the Nespresso (or any other machines) does serve for great conversation material when you have guests.

Have you tried a cuppa from Nespresso yet? Wonder whether they do taste very different from coffee made the good o' fashioned way.

Chris said...

When we were in Spain last year, the holiday flat in which we stayed had a Nespresso machine with very very overpriced capsules in the shop attached to the holiday flats. I liked it OK except for the price. When I get up in the morning I make the coffee in a 9-cup stove top espresso maker, make the toast, then pour large cups of espresso for each of us with lots of milk. Then I call my spouse down for breakfast. The Nespresso would make that difficult as you only make one cup at a time.

I think Starbucks was in Singapore earlier than that: my first trip to Sg was in 1995 and I could swear there were one or two there. I might be wrong. I distinctly remember the one at City Hall/Raffles Place from then. Perhaps distance and time have clouded my mind...

Nothing like a good cup of kopi, I say, with condensed milk. Makes me and my Singaporean-British friends think of the Little Red Dot with some mist in our eyes. Doubtless the trendy in Singapore have eschewed kopi but there's nothing like it.

Karin said...

I actually love Whittards... they make excellent gifts, actually...

Oh, and I have a friend who drinks neither coffee nor tea but who bought a nespresso machine and now only drinks nepresso coffee. personally i think people just do it because it seems "posh" and "sophisticated"...

C K said...

I remember spending hours chatting with pals nursing over cups of teh (tea with condensed milk). It's really not about the tea itself but the clicking sound of the metal spoon knocking on the glass cups as I stir it. heheh.

The friend of mine who carted back three Nespresso machines didn't use to be into coffee as well. Like I say, the marketing really works.

Chris said...

I need to get some glass cups with handles for kopi. I just use mugs but it's not the same. Don't like teh (or tea) very much tho...

Singaporeans do tend to go viral over certain classes of things. Once one person, then two, then three have one, all their friends want one and this goes on for a while until the next viral item happens. Besides the Nespresso machine, the iPhone is another example. I think it's an interesting phenomenon not confined to Singapore, of course.

C K said...

I guess the going viral part is more prominent in S'pore is due to the fact that everyone is being crammed into a tiny isle. It's hard not to notice what the person beside you is carrying.

I recall back then I was rather pleased with my newly acquired pager (yep, the one that gives a beeping sound) when the mobile phone of the chap sitting next to me rang. I just felt that I had to get one of those chunky looking phones. Oh well...

Chris said...

You're very right, CK. My first trip to Singapore was to visit my (now) ex, in 1995, who had a StarTac mobile phone (along with a pager). When I got back to London, the first thing I did was get a StarTac mobile phone. My ex referred to the UK as a Third World country because you couldn't control your landline phone characteristics like call forwarding from your mobile phone, as you could in Singapore.

lina said...

My friends go nuts over Harrod's bag. I don't really understand what's the fascination abt some vinyl looking bag though.

C K said...

You mean the green vinyl Harrods bag? They are sold in the basement of Harrods and you should have seen the shoppers making a beeline for that every single time without fail.

Chris said...

@lina: The reason the tourists go for the Harrod's bag is that it's the most inexpensive thing in Harrod's that has the name on it. So you buy it, take it back to Singapore (or wherever), and use it for your shopping so that everyone can see that you are the kind of person who shops in Harrod's when you visit London.

As for me, I wouldn't give them a ha'penny when Al Fayed owned the place. Now that the Qataris have bought it, perhaps I might wander in.

Cookie said...

I was shopping at Westfield last weekend, and was attracted to a very chic-looking coffee machine. Given that my hubby enjoy our cuppa every morning, I almost put down my credit card, but retracted when i found out they only use the capsule coffee powder (which I thot not avail in SG).

Now that i know this is such a rage in SG (strangely i didn't know that), I really should make a trip to the huge mall again!

C K said...

lol, well, I wouldn't put it in that many words.

Al Fayed sounds like a decent guy to me. Was reading about how he plans to install magnetic shields on Harrods' windows to protect his staff from mobile phone base stations.

May I know which brand of you referring to? I think Nespresso's capsules are available in Singapore. It's just that you can get it cheaper in London.

Wasn't quite taken to Westfield though. Reminded me of the huge malls back home. The thought of being crushed by the maddening crowds just gives me a headache...