Another Covid-19 victim: Robinsons to close last stores at The Heeren and Raffles City in Singapore

The retailer said that its employees were informed on Friday by management and the provisional liquidators of the liquidation. - The Straits Times/Asian News Network

SINGAPORE, Oct 30 (The Straits Times/ANN): Robinsons is liquidating its two department stores at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre, the retailer said on Friday (Oct 30).

This means that Robinsons' last two stores will be closing and the company will be exiting from the Singapore physical retail scene after 162 years.

Robinsons said in a statement that the liquidation decision was made after the store’s "inability to continue operations due to weak demand at department stores".

Danny Lim, Robinsons' senior general manager, said: "We regret this outcome today. Despite recent challenges in the industry, the Robinsons team continued to pursue the success of the brand. However, the changing consumer landscape makes it difficult for us to succeed over the long term and the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated our challenges.

"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."

Robinsons said that the dual trend of more people turning to online shopping and lower demand for department stores is to blame for slumping retail sales, a problem that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chain’s retail operations were bought by the United Arab Emirates-based Al-Futtaim Group in 2008 for $600 million.

In 2016, the Al-Futtaim group, which owns Robinsons and other franchises such as John Little and Bebe, announced that it would be closing 10 or more stores in Singapore, citing the challenging retail environment.

The company suffered losses for at least the last six years from shrinking sales, The Business Times reported.

Shoppers visiting the Robinsons store at Raffles City on Friday (Oct 30, 2020). - The Straits Times/ANNShoppers visiting the Robinsons store at Raffles City on Friday (Oct 30, 2020). - The Straits Times/ANN

In 2018, it sank US$54.4 million into the red after revenue fell to US$153.8 million. In comparison, turnover was US$257.3 million in 2014.

Its Raffles City store opened its doors in 2001.

The company later opened its flagship store at The Heeren in 2013, occupying six floors and 186,000 sq feet.

Then in 2016, Robinsons launched its first e-commerce website and also closed the last John Little outlet in Plaza Singapura at the end of the same year.

In the third quarter of this year, Robinsons closed its Jem outlet in Jurong East, which had opened in 2013.

Following Robinsons’ announcement on Friday, OCBC Bank said it is cancelling its OCBC Robinsons Credit Card from April 15 next year.

Vincent Tan, head of cards business at OCBC, said: “We are grateful to have been able to partner Robinsons in a successful co-branded credit card platform in Singapore over the past 18 years.”

Corporate advisory and restructuring firm KordaMentha's Cameron Duncan and David Kim have been appointed provisional liquidators, said Robinsons on Friday.

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.

"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," Robinsons added in the statement.

The retailer said that its employees were informed on Friday by management and the provisional liquidators of the liquidation, adding that they have been assured that the liquidators will now work to maximise returns to creditors, including employees.

Workers at the Robinsons store in Raffles City packing items from shelves into carton boxes on Friday (Oct 30, 3030). - The Straits Times/Asian News NetworkWorkers at the Robinsons store in Raffles City packing items from shelves into carton boxes on Friday (Oct 30, 3030). - The Straits Times/Asian News Network

Robinsons said its management has ensured that employees are supported with payments that will be made to them in line with the next payment cycle.

"(This) is well in advance of the usual liquidation process timing, which would usually take months," the company added.

KordaMentha will now aim to work with the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers’ Union, the National Trades Union Congress' Employment and Employability Institute and the NTUC Job Security Council to ensure that employees are supported.

The liquidators will also leverage existing government schemes such as SkillsFuture Singapore's SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

Robinsons stores in Malaysia, located at Shoppes at Four Seasons Place and The Gardens Mall, will also undergo a similar liquidation process with the appointment of Datuk Robert Teo Keng Tuan of RSM Malaysia on Friday as interim liquidator.

Some shoppers like housewife Suyan Hong, 48, were "totally stunned" when told that Robinsons was in provisional liquidation.

"I knew that they were downsizing after they announced the closure of their (Jem) outlet. But usually when downsizing happens it's a cost-cutting measure that will help the business’ margins improve. I didn't expect them to shut down," she said.

Hong said that the department store introduced her to brands such as Jigsaw, Whistle and Trucco which she frequently buys from.

"I will miss the spontaneous experience of being able to find anything from clothes, homeware and children’s items in one place at Robinsons," she said. "Robinsons is where I would go for last-minute shopping during the holiday season." - The Straits Times/Asian News Network

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