SINGAPORE: After more than 160 years in Singapore, Robinsons is closing its last two department stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre.
Robinsons, which is owned by the Al-Futtaim Group, said in a press release on Friday (Oct 30) the decision came on the back of changing retail buying patterns and weak demand made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robinsons has begun the liquidation process for the two stores and employees have been informed of the situation, the company said.
The provisional liquidators will now take control of the company’s assets and assess options to realise value in order to maximise returns to creditors, it added.
"Subject to confirmation, the liquidators are hoping the stores will remain open for the coming weeks to facilitate final sales for customers before they are shuttered." When asked by CNA for a time frame, a Robinsons spokesperson said on Friday liquidators were "in the midst of negotiating" with the landlords.
READ: Retailers need to move away from traditional business model to survive, says Chan Chun Sing
Employees were informed of the liquidation on Friday and have been assured that the provisional liquidators will also work to maximise returns to them, said Robinsons.
It employs 175 staff members in Singapore, the Robinsons spokesperson added in response to CNA's queries.
The spokesperson added the last day of employment for employees was "dependent on discussions with the landlords on how long the stores can stay open".
Robinsons management has also ensured that employees are supported with a payment in keeping with the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act, it added.
"Further, these payments will be made to them in line with the next payment cycle; well in advance of the usual liquidation process timing which would usually take months."
Cameron Duncan and David Kim from KordaMentha have been appointed as provisional liquidators.
READ: Goodbye Robinsons - A look at the department store's 160 years in Singapore
CHANGING CONSUMER LANDSCAPE
Online shopping has become increasingly popular among consumers amid changing purchasing behaviour and COVID-19 restrictions. Demand for large-scale department store concepts has also weakened significantly, with official data showing a 35.3 per cent drop in retail sales at department stores in August.
"This dual trend has hurt the department store model both in Singapore and globally, and the negative effects of COVID-19 have made its impact more acute," said Robinsons in the release.
When asked about the company's online plans in Singapore and Malaysia - another country it would be liquidating its stores in - the spokesperson said Robinsons would "no longer maintain an online presence".
"In our experience, the online model is not one that works for department stores, due to individual brands wanting to maintain brand ownership online, as well as stiff competition from full-fledged e-commerce sites."
Over the past year, retail behemoths have announced store closures, both in and out of Singapore.
In April, Esprit announced it would close all 56 retail stores in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau by the end of its financial year on Jun 30. In Singapore, the fashion retailer had 11 stores, including at ION Orchard, Paragon, Suntec City and Jewel Changi Airport.
Earlier this month, H&M said it planned to close hundreds of stores next year as COVID-19 crisis drove more shoppers online.
READ: Esprit to close all 56 outlets in Asia outside China, including those in Singapore amid COVID-19 impact
Robinsons' senior general manager Danny Lim said that the changing consumer landscape made it difficult for the department store to "succeed over the long-term".
“We regret this outcome today. Despite recent challenges in the industry, the Robinsons team continued to pursue the success of the brand," he said.
"We have enjoyed success over the years, and it has been an honour for Robinsons to serve the Singapore market. I am grateful for the dedication of our team, and for the support shown by our customers over the years.”
TRAINING AND JOB MATCHING FOR AFFECTED WORKERS
In response to Robinsons' announcement, the Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers' Union (SMMWU) said it will be working with the liquidators to "provide necessary assistance to the affected workers".
"In the event of a retrenchment exercise in a unionised company, the union will ensure that the company carries it out in line with the existing tripartite advisory on managing excess manpower and responsible retrenchment," said SMMWU.
Additionally the union is working with the Employment and Employability Institute via the National Trades Union Congress Job Security Council to provide training and job matching support for the workers.
"We are also in touch with other unionised companies to place affected workers into other jobs," added SMMWU.
READ: Commentary - The cull of retail businesses spells the end for mediocre malls
ROBINSONS TO CLOSE MALAYSIA STORES
Two Robinsons outlets in Malaysia - Shoppes at Four Seasons Place and The Gardens Mall - will also undergo a similar liquidation process. In Malaysia, it employs 125 staff members.
Earlier in May, Robinsons also announced that its outlet at Jem would close down in August.
Robinsons has also closed its store in Saudi Arabia, said the spokesperson, adding that the company was "monitoring the situation" in UAE and that "no decision has been taken yet".
Robinsons was founded in 1858 in Singapore by a Philip Robinson and James Gaborian Spicer.
The company operating the store was originally known as Spicer and Robinson, but was later renamed to Robinson and Company in October 1859. It opened its Raffles City store in 2001 and the stores at The Heeren and Jem in 2013.
Robinsons' spokesperson added "all store operations staff under Robinsons Singapore and Malaysia will remain in the employment of Robinsons until further notice".
"This will depend on the circumstances.
"We are doing our best to see how we can accommodate Robinsons staff in other brands."
The Al-Futtaim Group also runs other retail brands such as Marks & Spencer and Zara in Singapore and Malaysia.