On a lazy Saturday afternoon, I took the train and walked at least fifteen minutes to Sim Lim Square, the to-go place for any computer needs. Options to buy a computer are plentiful: from Harvey Norman whereby computers are graved with brands like HP or Acer to the nearby Funan Mall in which laptops come with free printers, cables and sometimes, even a small television. In fact, if I were to just sign a two-year contract with StarHub for a broadband connection that cost $80 per month, I will also get an entry-level computer for free.
But, like most Singaporeans in the early 2000s, I headed down to Sim Lim Square, because it was the to-go place.
At the end of each escalator, young people who looked underage distributed leaflets, each having a list of computer parts. Walking in to each shop and asking are too much of a hassle: the trick has been to take all leaflets, sit somewhere and browse through the lists. Unlike laptops nowadays whereby you just buy pre-assembled, SLS provided one option that other shops (except the online shop for Dell then) lacked: customizing your own computer.
Want more ram but less power for your motherboard? No problem. Need a powerful CPU but no need for a good monitor? Of course you can do it. Want your casing to be pink? You’ve got it. Want to install air-con inside your computer? Not an issue.
Even if you don’t understand anything, you just want to customize, because to a boy then, his computer represented him.
After skimming through the list and not understanding anything, I went to a shop that had the lowest price and pointed at the stuff I wanted for my computer: a motherboard, ram and harddisk. It feels exactly like how one would pick their meal in a restaurant. After paying, I was told to wait, or go to another shop in the remote part of the mall to see how their worker assembled the computer.
I walked past a row of closed shops and went to the “assemble” shop, much like a factory without the fancy machines. An Indian was assembling my parts like a robot in amazing speed. I asked whether he worked for the shop there—he then shook his head, and told me that he was the owner, and that his shop only did assembly for customized computers.
Even as I did my calculation, the price of the computer was almost 30% cheaper than what I could find in Funan Mall, and the specs was way better. After all, during that time, everything was about specs: the faster your computer was, the more successful you were.
It was a good experience—I got a computer at a cheaper price, I customized it, I got to ensure that my purchase was in place and I went home to play Sim City like a boss.
That was then, when Sim Lim Square used to have Singaporean customers like me.
Now, in 2014, if I want to buy a computer, I just switch on my computer, took out my credit card, customized it if I wanted (I won’t now) and track the parcel. What used to take 5 hours now takes 5 minutes. What used to cost $1,000 now costs $100.
That is the REAL competition that Sim Lim Square retailers are facing. But guess what happen recently? Not only have people not tried to fight the main competitor, but they’ve let greed make their competitors stronger. When we buy from Qoo10 or Amazon, what do we do next after looking at the price? Reviews. Ratings.
I’m just a typical Singaporean who used to have fond memories of Sim Lim Square. But one day, should it be gone, I won’t be surprised that a datacentre or a fulfilment centre stands at the exact same spot. After all, Sim Lim Square seems to be feeding the predator that preys on them.
In other words, RIP in advance, Sim Lim Square. You won’t be missed.
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