Chris Reed
Nov 30, 2012

What does loyalty mean to Singapore?

The often said joke amongst loyalty professionals in Singapore is that every Singaporean resident has 10 credit/bank cards in their wallet/purse – one for every bank in Singapore.The obvious ...

What does loyalty mean to Singapore?

The often said joke amongst loyalty professionals in Singapore is that every Singaporean resident has 10 credit/bank cards in their wallet/purse – one for every bank in Singapore.

The obvious implication of this is that there is no loyalty amongst residents for banks and credit cards in Singapore it’s merely who offers the best deals which will determine which card someone will use on any given occasion. Where is the brand loyalty if it’s all down to who has the best discount?



Virtually every bank, credit card, retailer, leisure brand and travel brand in Singapore has a loyalty scheme or discount card of some kind. Whether a brand’s loyalty scheme or program offer pure discounts or actual benefits, brands in Singapore fight for every dollar in a way that throws the brand values out of the window. The immediate short term spend is all that matters.

Singapore is one of the most aggressive discounting societies in the world and is often used as a test bed for loyalty programs that are then rolled out in other countries both in Asia and the West. There is even an "I love deals" site and app that allows residents to compare all bank deals in one place.

Singaporean residents know that they are sought after and use all their consumer power to extract the best deal from a bank, retailer or other consumer orientated brand. Given the feverish discounting environment why wouldn’t they?

Not only do all banks and credit cards have rewards and benefit programs but every level within each bank and credit card also has a different set of rewards and loyalty benefits.

Ironically those who have the most save the most and gain the most. A bit like celebrities who are given the most expensive and latest tech gadgets for nothing or are even paid to be seen with them and could clearly actually afford to buy them, the richest Singaporean residents are courted and sought out with amazing gifts, benefits, discounts and exclusive events.

Sometimes discounts overlap discounts. How many times have you been in a restaurant or retail outlet or leisure outlet or travel site and been offered the brand’s loyalty card/scheme benefits and then an additional set of benefits/discounts/added value if you pay for a meal/shopping spree/cinema ticket/holiday with a certain credit card too?

Every mass market retailer and F&B outlet has their own scheme but they can’t say no to the banks/credit cards so they allow additional offers to be given to them too. Often these schemes are non-exclusive and bank upon bank are lined up to offer some cash back offer or some free item or discount within the same shopping outlet or F&B outlet.

A recent report produced by the Chief Marketing Officer Council said that 54% of loyalty program members in a new study say that they feel so inundated by irrelevant messages and impersonal emails that they’re ready to unsubscribe to the program and switch brands.

The report went on to conclude:

  • Consumers say they've become "promotion-weary." Only 40% say they bother to open loyalty program newsletter emails - emails that they themselves volunteered to receive.
  • More than 30% of marketers say they're using blogs, online communities or social networks to communicate with members, yet consumers describe them as three of the least popular ways they keep up with the programs.
  • Almost 20% of consumers say they've never received a personalized communication that factors in their preferences or behaviour. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say they've received one-size-fits-all promos for products or services they already have.

So not only are Singaporean’s demanding every increasing discounts in an ever decreasing circle of discount on discount but the way that brands are doing it is also creating negative sentiment for the brand owner itself. Surely this is the opposite of loyalty marketing.

Consumers are overwhelmed with offers to such a degree that brand values and affinity go out of the window. It’s all about who has the best offer which if a bank needs to increase market share or spend quickly can effectively be as good as a cash bribe to use their card as opposed to a competitors to spend in that outlet.

But what happens next time that amazing offer is not there? Consumers go back to another bank/card that is offering the best deal next time. There is no loyalty.

Ultimately the consumer wins and the brand owner loses margin while gaining short term market share, but at what price and what consequence?

This leads directly to a mass scrum of consumers seeking out the best discounts and best offers both on the retail side and the bank side before choosing what card to spend on and what retailer to spend with. This then negates the need for any real build-up of brand value and brand loyalty.

Why bother spending millions on brand building if it all comes down to who has the best short term deal, discount, freebie or cash back deal?

Are global CMO’s spinning in their fancy leather chairs at the thought of all their carefully crafted and thought through long term brand focused research driven multi-million dollar marketing plans for a premium brand or cool and edgy brand or underground brand being completely overturned and made irrelevant because a competitor in Singapore is offering a better discount or by local marketing people in Singapore working for the same brand (if not the same organization…) having to offer a much better discount/freebie to compete and to hell with the negative consequences on the brand?

They don’t care because they have just licensed the brand from a UK/US brand owner without a thought about a global brand plan.

Once a consumer experiences this with a brand there is no going back, that memory is ingrained. They see your brand as a discount brand or a brand that gives freebies away or a brand that will do anything to have their business. The customer is then truly empowered and it doesn’t matter what that global CMO does to change it...

But does dis-loyalty in Singapore go further than merely credit cards and shopping discounts, is the population itself (including both citizens and expats) disloyal?

A new survey by the Hay Group showed that 52% of Singaporeans will leave their current employers within five years and 33% within two years.

The report says that the reason for this was that Singaporean employers are only interested in short term goals and not long term sustainability pointing to the stagnating engagement rates in Singapore.

Why should employees stay loyal if employers are not visionary or looking after their wellbeing on a long term basis and not truly engaging them?

This can’t all be blamed on foreign workers, although that is clearly part of it as one in three employees in Singapore can up and leave to another country with a better offer should they wish to do so, as that’s how they got here in the first place.

Singaporean residents of all nationalities were covered by this survey and it ties in with other surveys and personal experiences where people move jobs for a few dollars more or a fancier title or just because they are bored and live at home and they can. They have the power and they’re going to use it and why shouldn’t they?

Therefore if there is no loyalty in working for someone and no loyalty to your bank or credit card or retailer or restaurant or even cinema or airline is it any surprise that brands are feeling that Singaporean consumers (of all nationalities) are disloyal? Is it a good thing that brands are made to work harder for Singaporean custom with scant regards to quality or brand values and heritage?


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