On 30 October 2020, one of Singapore’s biggest names in retail announced its closure. Robinsons will be closing its last two stores in Singapore: its flagship store at The Heeren, and its 85,000 sq ft department store in Raffles City Shopping Centre. Robinsons Singapore has long been a fixture in the city, being in operation for 162 years. More than a business, the well-loved brand has been a huge part of Singapore, creating traditions and evolving through the times with the society it serves. The announcement sent shockwaves around the city, but it was imminent for retail giant Robinsons, which has seen over six years of operational losses.
End of an Era
The first Robinsons store opened in 1858, functioning mainly as a grocery store. By 1957, it has established prominence and became renowned all through the Far East. The conglomerate also stood through unfortunate disasters – its Raffles Chambers store was bombed during World War II, and the store was razed by a massive fire in 1972, with nine people left dead in the blaze.
In the 2000s, the company started to expand and restructure. A new $30 million store opened in Raffles City and from 2006 to 2008, the company went through changes in ownership, with Indonesia’s Lippo Group, and the Al-Futtaim Group of Dubai holding stakes in the company. In 2013, the new flagship store at The Heeren was opened.
In a bid to boost its decreasing sales, Robinsons launched its e-commerce platform in 2016. However, the shrinking demand for retail renting and the shift of shopping preferences from brick-and-mortar stores to virtual continued to plague the company. The COVID-19 epidemic and its economic repercussions proved to be the nail in the coffin for Robinsons. The former shopping giant in Singapore is closing down.
Why is e-Commerce the Biggest Challenge for Traditional Retailers?
Although many were saddened by it, the closure of Robinsons did not come as a total surprise. Physical retailers from all over the world are closing down. Giant brands like Walmart, JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, Forever 21, and Sears have all closed shops. The convenience and accessibility of online shopping have caused a massive shift in buying behaviours and a fast-dropping demand for brick-and-mortar shops, shopping malls, and department stores.
The changing retail landscape removed stores and physical outlets from the equation. eCommerce opened a new dimension in shopping, one that is preferred by most consumers today. Here are five major advantages of e-Commerce that are plaguing department store retailers:
1. Online platforms are cheaper
Setting up and maintaining an online store is a lot cheaper than a brick-and-mortar outlet. The costs of building a website and an online store are just a fraction of the costs of constructing, decorating, and putting together a brick-and-mortar shop. Overhead costs are also lowered as less staff are required to man an online shop, compared to a physical one. No rent, electricity, and water bills!
2. Sellers can set up their own shops
Anyone can easily set up their own online shop or hire an outsourcing firm in Singapore to build one for them. This convenience gives the sellers an option to go directly to their customers, thus effectively lowering costs and increasing profitability. The low barriers for new retailers to set up virtual stores further decreased the need for sellers to rent retail spaces in physical departmental stores.
3. Shopping is more convenient
Convenience and accessibility of online shopping tipped buyers and customers to favour the virtual stores. Multiple payment options give buyers the flexibility and ease of shopping. The remote and cashless transactions afforded by e-Commerce resolved many shopping problems during the pandemic with its lockdowns and travel restrictions.
4. Operations are streamlined
No more restocking of shelves, cash handling, keeping the store neat and tidy, price tagging, holiday staffing, and tiresome inventory monitoring. With e-Commerce, everything is automated, thus, operations are fast, simple, and efficient.
5. Round-the-clock operations and worldwide reach
As consumers flock online, shopping becomes something that can be done around the clock as there are no fixed operating hours for online stores. You continue selling while you and your staff are asleep, at a meeting, or on vacation. You are also maximising your reach as you can now sell to anyone around the world.
How can Retailers Overcome the Threats of e-Commerce?
The overwhelming edge that e-Commerce offers to consumers is proving to be a threat to retailers – one that has reduced many big names and retail brands to bankruptcy. As many welcomed the convenience and accessibility of shopping online, not all retailers are adaptive enough to accommodate the change. Thus, many of them are rapidly losing customers and losing the business.
Change is always a tumultuous stage. But, oftentimes, it is the only option we have if we are to survive the evolution and stay in business. Here are some tips that could help business organisations weather the threats of e-Commerce and the massive disruption it has brought to the business industry.
1. Embrace change
The best way to overcome the threat of e-Commerce is to embrace it. Recognise its advantages and apply them to your organisation. Launching an online store will significantly widen your client base, give your current customers more options, and increase revenue. Expand your reach and operations by establishing an online presence, on top of your brick-and-mortar stores.
Take advantage of government grants such as the Digital Resilience Bonus, where you can receive up to $10,000 for adopting digital solutions in accounting, HR/payroll, inventory management, data analytics, e-Commerce, e-Procurement, food ordering and delivery. Enterprise Singapore (ESG) also provides a 90% support on qualifying costs (capped at $9,000) for retailers looking to list their products for sale online via one of four e-Commerce platforms providers: Amazon, Shopee, Qoo10 and Lazada Singapore. For those unfamiliar with the grant applications, support can be found in SME Centres, or you can opt to work with a corporate service provider in Singapore with proven experience in helping businesses go digital effectively.
2. Highlight your brand
What makes your store or shop unique? What brings people in? Is it the family-friendly ambience of the store? The trendy and fashionable selection of goods? Is it the little extras in the services you offer? Remind people of why they love your store. Highlight your brand and provide the special shopping experience that only you can provide, whether it’s online or offline.
3. Improve your response time
Whether you add a virtual store to your mix or not, it is important to strengthen your customer engagement. e-Commerce has spoilt shoppers with the expectation of instant gratification. People are no longer willing to wait. Prioritise your customer service responsiveness, whether is it answering queries, addressing complaints, and delivering goods. Make sure you provide your customers with what they need, as soon as possible. Empower your customer service team by allocating more human resources to provide personalised support to your customers, while outsourcing administrative tasks such as by engaging accounting firms in Singapore to streamline other parts of your business operations.
Platform responsiveness is also important – Recapture your sales lost to slow or unresponsive webpages by doing regular checks on your site speed and optimising webpage loading times. Work with an outsourced web agency or business consultant who can help to accelerate your business digitalisation.
4. Study your competitors
In the changing business climate, take a closer look at how your competitors are doing. They are your best sources of information and guidance on how to navigate this crucial stage. For the old-timers that have retained their stature, what changes have they adopted? What practices have they retained? For the newcomers, what are they doing right? What is their edge? For those who failed – where did they fail? Learn from these lessons and make use of data and statistics to inform your business strategy and decisions.
5. Bank on customer loyalty
You can alienate loyal customers by changing or not changing at all. The key to securing their loyalty is to know your customers. Conducting a survey or doing interviews will give you a good idea of how they stand on accepting changes. Age, location, social standing, and income range of your target audience are just some of the factors to consider when deciding whether or not to make the change.
6. Invest in a secure platform
Online security is fundamental to any virtual store or website. Ensuring the security of your customers’ information is also a company compliance requirement in Singapore. People are aware and are just too afraid of scams, frauds, and other cybercrimes that are pervasive on the internet. If you are making the move to e-Commerce, make sure that you are building a secure environment for you and your customers, be it via ensuring personal data protection, or using trusted and secure payment gateways.
7. Innovate your marketing plan
The internet has evolved from a connectivity tool into a place where people socialise, communicate, work, and shop. Your current marketing strategy may no longer be the most efficient to reach your target market. Television viewing is on the decline, newspapers are all but phased out, and local radio stations are no longer the primary music source of the masses. Study where you can reach your customers at the present, reassess if your marketing strategies still apply, and make the necessary changes.
Need support to take on the challenges of the digital age for your business? We offer comprehensive business and accounting services in Singapore. Connect with us today to discuss more of your company compliance requirements in Singapore. We look forward to helping you identify your business needs and providing you with efficient and holistic solutions.