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Singapore’s Robinsons department store to shut down after 162 years

Robinsons Singapore

Singapore’s department store Robinsons is closing its last two brick-and-mortar outlets, ending an era dating back 162 years.

The business has been placed into liquidation effective today.

Robinsons had already closed its Jem Mall store just a few months ago. Now the 186,000sqft, six-storey flagship at The Heeren which opened in 2013 and the other at Raffles City, opened in 2001, will follow. 

Robinsons is owned by UAE-based Al Futtaim Group which paid $600 million for the business back in 2008. Al Futtaim owns the rights to multiple fashion brands in Singapore, along with the Marks & Spencers business. 

In a statement released today, senior GM Danny Lim said the decision was made due to weak demand at department stores. 

“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.”

While Covid-19 has had an impact on footfall at every retailer in the city, it only exacerbated the trend towards consumers shopping online and at specialty stores, and shifting away from department stores. 

According to a report in the Business Times, Robinsons has been trading at a loss for the last six years as footfall and sales fell. 

In 2014, the business achieved sales of S$257.3 million, but by 2018, turnover had fallen to $153.8 million, resulting in a loss of $54.4 million. 

While the stores are being placed in liquidation, it is unclear if the company will continue to operate online, at least in the short term. The co-branded Robinsons OCBC credit card will be discontinued in April. 

Cameron Duncan and David Kim of corporate restructuring company KordaMentha have been appointed provisional liquidators. Their first task will be to assess the best course of action to maximise the return to creditors. It is not yet clear how long the stores will continue to trade, but the company said in its statement that it hopes they will remain open during the coming weeks to clear stock and “facilitate final sales for customers before they are shuttered”.

Staff were told of the decision today and the company says it has confirmed with the liquidators that the next payment cycle will be honoured. Unions representing workers are in talks with the liquidators over settlements.

Robinsons dates back to 1858 when Englishman Philip Robinson and business partner James Spicer, a former jailkeeper, opened Spicer & Robinson on a site which is now known as Raffles Place.  

The demise of Robinsons in Singapore comes in the sme week that Japanese department-store operator Tokyu announced it was exiting Bangkok, following on the heels of rival Isetan. 

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