So Robinsons, a 160+ year old department store in Singapore, is being liquidated. Many patrons, who probably have not bought anything for years, flooded to the two remaining stores for some bargain. Scared of the possibility of not receiving their payment, suppliers refused to ship.

Chaos.

Why are customers not buying?

All the commentaries seem to point to shifting consumer behaviour towards ecommerce as the main reason why Robinsons is out of business. Well, have they spoken with the customers? Those customers who remember Robinsons as a place of joy (and wonder), and stopped spending with the department store?

Maybe the customer ratings (and reviews) on Facebook could offer some clues:

‘Expensive’

Many of my friends, who have been going to department stores, still love to go to department stores. And they do shop at department stores – however, once I mention Robinsons to them, here are some of the typical responses: “The Raffles City store really bright and spacious, but I can’t really remember what they sell”. “What they sell is very expensive, and consumer service is not responsive“.

The price seems to be a major issue – it is seen as expensive by many (and not competitive to boutiques and more specialised shops around the corner). Many I have spoken to will serious look at Robinsons when there is a major sale going on – and of course, ecommerce platforms have much more major sale seasons.

It’s about customers 

This is understandable, as ecommerce platforms or sellers do not have the real estate with natural customer traffic (as offline retailers do) – so they have to find all the ways possible for customers to continue to shop with them. That include major shopping festivals, as well as customer centricity (that too many traditional retailers talk about and few practice well).

In Robinson’s case, most of the negative reviews are about customer service and aggressive sales people – both are pointed towards customer experience. In ecommerce’s case, it is hard to imagine dozens of long and elaborate negative reviews going unanswered for years.

If it is the suppliers’ sales people being aggressive or suppliers not providing good service – well, customers remember that they are buying from (or have bought from) Robinsons.

Robinsons has a managed Facebook page which seems to be posh and engagement – maybe the Facebook place where it receives all the negative reviews is not on the radar (or more likely, not in the set of KPIs) of those who manage it online/social presence.

All retailers are impacted by ecommerce, covid-19 or any other trends/mega events. Theses are not terminal illnesses, but how do you respond, and how fast you respond, probably determines whether you survive (or even thrive), or not.

It is about the customers, at the end of the day. 

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at hello@mworks.asia.