The Great American Sale

Unlike other more typical Singaporeans, shopping isn't really in the blood of my family. We much prefer to spend our time exploring the great outdoors, visiting museums and attractions, or indulging in a good meal. However, as a significnt part of our US tour package includes various shopping stops - an ever popular request amongst Singaporean groups - we had the chance to dive into some festive Christmas shopping in the West.

How was the experience of shopping like in the US? Well, here are some snapshots to give you a glimpse of what we did.

The US is full of warehouse discount shops like Target here, which are big factory-sized affairs offering free parking, everyday low prices, and money-back guarantees (no questions asked).

With huge aisles, clearly tagged prices (especially sale items), and convenient amenities within like restrooms, cafes and so on, these shops were a mainstay for the average Joe. The back-end operations of these retail outlets are often tightly integrated into their supply chains, so category management becomes a breeze.

Of course, the big trolleys can be fun to ride in too!

Factory outlets are a big thing here for us Asians. Here's a signboard at Gilroy Premium Outlets telling us where the good brands are located.

Arranged in a row, the factory outlets offer out of season merchandise at rock-bottom prices. The good thing as any savvy Singaporean shopper would tell you is that these items are still in fashion in Singapore. All the leading brands are here: Levi's, Nike, Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Banana Republic.

To fuel our retail expedition, fast food outlets like the famous "In-N-Out" Burger is available for a quick bite (PS - they are definitely better than McDonald's).

Another factory outlet which we visited was in the middle of the desert in California near Nevada.

This one offered a food court with a Chinese-style buffet. Obviously, many of the shoppers who travel here are Asians, who have been known to be much more brand conscious than the typical American shopper.

The highlight of the factory outlets here? Coach bags galore! The ladies in particular were in a frenzy here and excitement was in the air. Some of the bags which retail for about S$800 in Singapore could be bought for about S$300 or so here. And they are still very much in fashion. Wow!

What's interesting was that some of the fueling stops, which offered gas for vehicles, shower facilities, and cafes...

...had unique merchandise for sale at their retail outlets. I spotted soft plush toys, guitars, souvenir items, candy bars and the ubiquitous beef jerky snacks. They also had "high-octane" caffeinated drinks and pills to keep one going on long drives.

With a five-year old in tow, one of our stops naturally had to be this icon of American childhood consumerism - Toys R Us.

In terms of store layout, they are pretty similar to those in Singapore. Unfortunately though, the sale items were not really attractive and prices were comparable to those here.

What's unique though - and a common feature in the American buying scene - is that they offer credit cards for toys. In fact, credit is so easily available here that many Americans are borrowing or buying on credit most of the time. I heard from a radio advertisement that you don't need to show your payslip, credit history, financial accounts or anything of that sort. Even bankrupts could get access to ready credit without any fuss.

Naturally, there are upmarket retail experiences in the US. Earlier, I mentioned Macy's at San Francisco's chic Union Square neighbourhood. Here's Rodeo Drive near the Beverly Hills area of Los Angeles - probably the most glamourous shopping spot in America.

Notice how the street lights are actually chandelier lamps. Talk about extravagance!

High-class boutiques offering all the top designer brands could be found here.

Unfortunately, all we could do is to strike a pose. We didn't even dare to venture inside the shops because we didn't have enough US dollars to go around.

Well, we certainly don't want to end up like these guys who were caught by the world famous LAPD!

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