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Tears flow, sadness prevails as Robinsons employees eye empty shelves, serve customers before closure

SINGAPORE — Those who have been around Robinsons long enough could sense that things were not looking good, but not Mr Andy Ng, a sales supervisor who has been there for just two years. “We found out this morning during a meeting,” he said of the department store’s liquidation, which was announced on Friday (Oct 30). “I didn’t expect it.”

An employee at Robinsons clearing items off the shelves on Oct 30, 2020 at The Heeren branch.

An employee at Robinsons clearing items off the shelves on Oct 30, 2020 at The Heeren branch.

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  • Several Robinsons employees expressed their sadness at the store’s permanent closure
  • A number of them have worked there for decades
  • They expected that there may not be good news with the economy doing badly
  • Promoters said that there had been talk the rest of the stores would close after the branch at Jem did

 

SINGAPORE — Those who have been around Robinsons long enough could sense that things were not looking good, but not Mr Andy Ng, a sales supervisor who has been there for just two years.

“We found out this morning during a meeting,” he said of the department store’s liquidation, which was announced on Friday (Oct 30). “I didn’t expect it.”

Surrounded by half-empty shelves and a sea of customers, the 39-year-old who was at the store outlet in Raffles City Shopping Centre added that he would miss his colleagues and is worried about getting another job. 

Other employees who have been there for decades were subdued and trying to keep their emotions from overwhelming them.

Customers shopping at Robinsons' branch at The Heeren before it closes for good. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

It was somewhat chaotic when TODAY visited both the Raffles City and The Heeren outlets on Friday afternoon. There were queues of customers at the cashiers, some staff members were packing products away into cardboard boxes, while other employees continued to serve customers. 

The steady stream of customers entering the stores snapped up various items from clothes to bonsai plants. 

The queue of customers entering Robinsons at The Heeren did not let up as the sun set on Oct 30, 2020. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

A 74-year-old sales associate at the Raffles City outlet, who declined to be named, said: “I’m very sad… When I see the empty counters downstairs, it hurts.” 

She has worked at Robinsons for 30 years, is past Singapore’s official retirement age and would have continued working there if not for the latest development.

“This is a department store with more than 100 years of history, but because of Covid-19…” she said, trailing off. “I’ve been with the company through its ups and downs. I was very busy, but very happy.”

Still, she somehow knew it might not last. "I already mentally prepared myself. There are no tourists. We were closed for two to three months,” she said, referring to the second quarter of the year when most business activities were halted here to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Another sales associate who did not want to be identified, a 63-year-old who has been an employee for 20 years, said as she teared up: “Customers are nicer compared to last time... we could learn from them to provide better service to them.”

Many of the shelves in-store were half-empty at Robinsons department store as employees take stock and pack up goods. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Promoters at both Robinsons outlets also expressed their sadness, even though they are not directly employed by the department store. 

“All the colleagues here get along very well, the customers are very nice,” Ms Ann Chia, 53, a promoter for clothing brand Glenhill, said.

Ms Chia has been permanently stationed at the Raffles City branch for five to six years. She reminisced about her regular customers, adding that one even dropped her a phone text message in the morning to check if the store would really be closed after reading the news. 

A makeup artist with Nars stationed at The Heeren, who wanted to be known only as Yee, said that she was a little sad about the closure, but was not completely surprised by the outcome.

“We work here, so we know the situation,” she said, referring to the slow sales. For instance, people are no longer allowed to test makeup products, which makes it hard to get new customers.

Other promoters said that business had been picking up, though it was quieter compared to pre-Covid-19 levels. They said that there had been talk that the remaining stores might shutter after the Robinsons branch at Jem mall in Jurong closed down in end-August, but they did not know for sure until Friday’s news came. 

Customers browsing at what remains at the shoes department of Robinsons, The Heeren. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Robinsons employs 175 people in Singapore. On Friday, the retailer announced that it has started liquidating its remaining two stores here at The Heeren on Orchard Road and Raffles City Shopping Centre on North Bridge Road. It started its business here in 1858 in Raffles Place.

It will also close its stores in Malaysia, which are located in Kuala Lumpur, at the Shoppes at Four Seasons Place and The Gardens Mall.

The liquidation process for its Singapore stores will be overseen by Mr Cameron Duncan and Mr David Kim from KordaMentha, a corporate advisory and restructuring firm. 

Robinsons told TODAY that it will 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,” its spokesperson said.

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robinsons business department store closure employees

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