Commentary: Goodbye, Robinsons. Chances are you’ll quickly be with acquainted firm

Commentary: Goodbye, Robinsons. You may soon be with familiar company

SINGAPORE: I awakened the morning of Oct 30 to ominous “pings” of textual content messages saying the closure of the 162-year outdated iconic division retailer, Robinsons.

As I learn the information that Robinsons shall be shutting its shops at The Heeren and Raffles Metropolis, like many Singaporeans, I had combined emotions of nostalgia and the inevitability about the way forward for shops in Singapore and globally.

The writing was already on the wall for the reason that Nineties and 2000s once we noticed the primary wave of Japanese and European shops corresponding to Sogo, Daimaru, Galleries Lafayette, Printemps and Lane Crawford exiting Singapore.

This was adopted by the closure of John Little’s final outlet in Plaza Singapura in 2016, in addition to the shutting of Isetan’s retailer at Jurong’s Westgate mall and the Robinsons retailer at Jem earlier this 12 months.

The retail physique rely continues to extend globally particularly for the once-dominant division retailer format.  

In response to GlobalData Retail, greater than 190,000 shops accounting for practically 50 per cent of retail sq. footage within the US have closed as a result of COVID-19 pandemic and financial disaster.

Many of those retail shops, which promote principally non-essential objects, might by no means reopen. Among the established division retailer chains corresponding to Neiman Marcus and JC Penney have filed for chapter. 

READ: Commentary: We mourn the lack of Robinsons as a result of it was a key piece of our childhood

READ: Does vaccine promise put US shoppers in a procuring temper? Retailers might have clues

Nordstrom’s and Macy’s are restructuring and elevating capital to remain afloat and be related.

In Singapore, the setting appears equally difficult for established gamers corresponding to Metro, Tangs, OG, BHG, Takashimaya and Isetan. 

OG department store at Orchard

Picture of OG Orchard Level. (Picture: Tang See Equipment)

Among the retail gamers corresponding to Marks and Spencer might proceed to function profitably by bettering operational effectivity, merchandising and stock administration, whereas others, corresponding to Metro, have diversified into property funding.

Even then, current information studies present Metro Holdings’ income plunged 71.5 per cent and the rise in share of earnings was buoyed by contributions from a residential venture. 


Whereas many observers agree that this pattern has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, there are a large number of enterprise and aggressive components together with everlasting shifts in purchaser behaviour and existence that don’t augur effectively for shops.

Danny Lim, Robinsons’ senior common supervisor, informed media that altering retail developments had been as a result of rise of e-commerce, value pressures and decrease demand for shops.

He added that the division retailer mannequin is outdated and the pandemic has solely deepened the challenges shops face.

READ: Do shops nonetheless have a future in Singapore?

Some specialists have additionally noticed that Robinsons might have alienated lots of its common clients after its rebranding and repositioning to grow to be extra upmarket and unique when the Al Futtaim group took over its operations.

Moreover, a number of the new manufacturers that had been launched to the shops in Singapore didn’t attraction to locals. 

Robinsons Singapore

Clients queue to enter a Robinsons division retailer on the Hereen alongside Orchard Street on Oct 30, 2020. (Picture: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

This jogged my memory of the branding and merchandising errors Galleries Lafayette and Lane Crawford made once they opened shops in Singapore as they launched upmarket and costly European manufacturers that didn’t attraction to their clientele.

The largest sledgehammer nonetheless has been the recognition of on-line procuring. Buyers should buy their favorite high-end and mass market manufacturers from e-commerce marketplaces corresponding to Lazada, Shopee and Amazon in addition to immediately from the manufacturers’ web sites. 

The sheer selection and assortment of merchandise and aggressive costs obtainable on-line anytime, has made on-line procuring the popular possibility for buyers, particularly the youthful, digitally-savvy demographic. 

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Designer manufacturers corresponding to Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel that used to retail their merchandise in upmarket shops have gone direct by opening flagship luxurious boutiques providing private procuring help and customisation, and thru their direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels corresponding to their immersive and interactive web sites and cell apps. 

For instance, Louis Vuitton is now providing stay streaming procuring in sure markets. 

READ: Commentary: Why luxurious manufacturers are weathering the pandemic higher than different retailers

READ: Commentary: Does tiny Singapore actually need a 3rd Apple retailer?

This pattern has been evident for the reason that 2000s as luxurious labels have been increasing their retail footprint and competing with shops in premium procuring areas. 

Due to this fact, shops’ share of luxurious retailing has been step by step declining, exacerbated by the presence of many on-line retailers and discounters as effectively. 

Whereas shops have responded by bringing in new premium manufacturers and growing the number of non-public labels, the impression on gross sales has been restricted.

This has made departments shops much less fascinating as a vacation spot for designer manufacturers.

Illustration photo of the Lazada website

The Singapore Lazada web site is seen on this illustration picture June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

Additionally, the pattern towards what some specialists name the Isolation Economic system is gathering momentum as an increasing number of individuals get used to the comfort of consuming services within the consolation and security of their properties. 

The pandemic has additionally compelled many to make money working from home and keep away from crowded procuring malls and shops as a result of an infection dangers. 

READ: Commentary: Tips on how to promote garments throughout a retail apocalypse 

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The Isolation Economic system has fuelled demand for not solely on-line procuring but in addition e-learning, telemedicine, gaming, leisure streaming corresponding to Netflix and Spotify, and the rising reputation of “shoppertainment” corresponding to Taobao stay streaming, which mix e-commerce with leisure.

Analysts imagine that this pattern is more likely to proceed after the pandemic ends as shoppers who’ve skilled the worth, selection, comfort and security of consuming companies and procuring from house could also be much less reluctant to return to bodily or leisure procuring.


The well-known maxim for the success of a retailer – location, location and site – could also be much less related, even for shops which have traditionally most popular to find in prime districts as anchor tenants in busy procuring malls. 

READ: Commentary: Retail isn’t useless – have a look at snaking queues outdoors Apple shops

The growing retail footprint of luxurious boutiques, mass branded chain shops that now seem in malls within the suburbs too and the recognition of on-line procuring have additional diluted the strategic significance of getting your retailer located in prime areas to seize footfall.

With the rising reputation and comfort of e-commerce and voice commerce – procuring assisted by digital assistants corresponding to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – sooner or later, paying excessive leases for shops in premium procuring areas corresponding to Orchard Street might not make business sense even when these areas nonetheless appeal to excessive pedestrian visitors.

Shoppers standing outside a luxury retail store in a shopping mall along Orchard road

Buyers cross by luxurious model retailers at Orchard Street. (Picture: AFP)

The excessive working prices and issue of attracting and retaining good retail expertise is making it very tough for shops to be financially viable and, on the similar time, ship excessive requirements of service high quality and shopper experiences.

Robinsons and Isetan who’ve adopted the location-based technique of aggressive saturation by opening multiple retailer in high-traffic areas corresponding to Orchard Street might not be viable as a result of excessive leases, accessibility of suburban procuring malls, and the truth that shops are not seen as vacation spot shops.


From Robinsons’ expertise, the try to go omni-channel – which is a mix of brick and mortar, e-commerce and cell platforms – to draw youthful buyers, together with the annual Black Friday sale, to supply selection, worth and comfort was eroded by competitors from on-line retailers and types’ director-to-consumer (DTC) channels.

READ: Commentary: Retail in China has exploded with on-line gross sales brokers. Now Walmart desires in

I additionally imagine that Robinsons was comparatively late within the recreation of omni-channel retailing so its model worth amongst internet buyers – principally youthful and digitally-savvy buyers – was not as sturdy because the likes of ASOS and Lazada who’ve been round longer.  

Which means shops will proceed to face challenges even when they embrace digital transformation and omni-channel retailing at this stage.

Pedestrians at Orchard Road

Pedestrians are seen alongside Orchard Street in Singapore on Oct 30, 2020. (Picture: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

In the end, success and sustainability will rely on whether or not buyers nonetheless worth the touch-and-feel, personalised procuring experiences with the atmosphere that upscale shops present.

Nonetheless, proof from procuring developments and behavior in Singapore and globally appear to point in any other case. In that case, this would possibly certainly imply the tip of a one-stop-shop just like the division retailer.

READ: Commentary: E-commerce is ready to growth, pushed by COVID-19

And if that involves cross, we might have to reinvent methods to nonetheless have the flexibility to exit to buy, throughout festive seasons. 

One possibility is to have these massive title retailers changed by competition markets and pop-up shops at procuring belts or neighborhood areas.

As a consumer, I actually hope shops will proceed to be a part of Singapore’s retail scene offering immersive and social experiences that on-line procuring can not exchange.

Dr Prem Shamdasani, Affiliate Professor of Advertising and marketing and Educational Director, The NUS Government MBA, Nationwide College of Singapore.The opinions expressed are these of the author and don’t signify the views and opinions of NUS.

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