Bringing the iconic Robinsons brand online

Bringing the iconic Robinsons brand online
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Transitioning to an e-commerce model meant reshaping the customer experience to set Robinsons apart – through a better online experience, enhanced brand offerings, as well as improved customer service.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much of the retail landscape with the footfall seen in malls and brick-and-mortar shops decreasing. A long-term consequence is that with online demand surging, moving into e-commerce became necessary and inevitable. Retailers cannot expect business to go back to ‘normal’. 

For the iconic Robinsons brand, it was also critical that the e-commerce model offers the familiarity and in-person shopping experience that continues to maintain the trust and confidence with customers.

iTNews Asia speaks to Jordan Prainito, Managing Director of Robinsons to find out how – leveraging best practices and knowledge from his previous stint at Canningvale – he is relaunching Robinsons as an online store and providing ‘something for everyone’ in the brand's new product offerings for its wide audiences.

iTNews Asia: Robinsons is a 163 year old iconic brand with a long history as a department store. What were the key steps and considerations taken into account to bring this brand online as Robinsons Department Stores Online?

The decision to go online was made after evaluating multiple external and internal factors. Part of the reason was the opportunity to save the Robinsons brand with such a rich, esteemed heritage in Singapore and broader Southeast Asia.

It became clear to us that a fully-fledged online transformation of the Robinsons business and brand would be able to continue to serve the myriad of dedicated customers the business has accumulated over its many years of existence. As an online department store that focuses on a curated merchandise offering and customer service, we’ve seen the business grow from strength to strength in its new iteration.

This new format allows us to sell to anyone at all hours of the day especially for those who are time-strapped and/or remote. By breaking down physical barriers, we can create a more frictionless shopping environment for our customers.

iTNews Asia: Was it difficult to gather enough data to assist with this process of going online?

Not at all, quite the contrary – online  businesses and the opportunities that are around them are quite easily found. Whether it’s from Google Trends, Fast growing Keyword searches and other data points, there was more than enough data to suggest that it would be a positive long term transformation.

iTNews Asia: Was the move to e-commerce something that Robinsons was always building to?

Whilst the brick-and-mortar stores model was managed by the previous organisation, the relaunch of Robinsons as a fully integrated e-commerce platform in Singapore is a logical one – given that is where the largest base of existing customers reside.  With the advent of the pandemic, it simply hastened the uptake of online shopping adoption.

iTNews Asia: What were the challenges faced when transitioning to the online platform and how were they overcome?

With the closure of Robinsons Singapore under the previous entity, one of the challenges was to restore the trust and confidence of the previous brands and customers. We are glad that Robinsons Online continues to work with most of its previous brands and merchandise. We feel humbled by their support and the ongoing patronage of our customers.

iTNews Asia: How did you apply the learnings from Canningvale to Robinsons?

Leveraging on Canningvale’s expertise in digital transformation, we have embarked on a long term Robinsons transformation journey into a leading online retailer – allowing it to sell to everyone at all hours of the day, and to both Singapore and Malaysian residents. We’ve learnt that if you can provide the best in class customer service, great value, and high quality brands & products, customers will come back and vote with their wallets.  

At a higher level, Robinsons benefits from synergies with Canningvale’s online platform and management support. The global pandemic has expedited mainstream adoption of online shopping and thus, we envision Robinsons to be a pure play department store with a focused product offering to present price sensitive customers with curated quality merchandise, and Canningvale has the proven track record to do just that.

We are a value-oriented, specialist online department store that focuses on offering “less choice of better options”.

Our site includes familiar brands that Robinsons’ customers love and trust. Homegrown brands are a key focus for us as Singaporeans have an affinity towards them. For instance, our recent collaboration with The Front Row, another Singapore fashion initiative, to showcase the creativity and talent of Singaporean and Asian designers across borders, onto the global scene. Simultaneously, “new to market” brands are introduced to give an added freshness to the portfolio which would attract new demographics.

- Jordan Prainito, Managing Director of Robinsons 

iTNews Asia: Does Robinson see online commerce as overtaking sales from physical stores?

The volatility of the pandemic has been a catalyst in accelerating the digital transformation of physical stores as innovation is no longer an option but essential in ensuring business viability. Time is of the essence, and innovation is the key to strategy success.

Online commerce has registered exponential growth during this pandemic time across most industries where many customers took to online shopping as the safest way to shop, hence it is inevitable for online commerce to overtake physical store sales.

iTNews Asia: How did Robinsons ensure little disruption to their customers’ journeys when transitioning from the traditional brick and mortar retail store to online?

Due to COVID 19, we had a massive surge in digital adoption across the globe, driven by economic downturns, customer preference shifts, and digital acceleration. I'd say timing helped us with the transformation and encouragement of customers to come back and try the 'new' Robinsons online experience – we had customers looking to find better value in ways that didn't expose themselves to working through crowded malls or public transport.

And a preference for trusted brands really has driven the Robinsons customer back to our online store. Further to this, we've seen trends of 'On-the-go' consumption decline; customers are thinking more about a purchase and researching the value options out there. Due to our strong brand network and relationships, we are able to provide such strong value to our customer base which has led to a high repeat purchase rate so far.

Due to the above, we've been able to focus our relaunch marketing efforts on serving these new customer behaviour trends and follow up with an ‘exceptional’ customer service during the post-purchase period.

iTNews Asia: Does Robinson have different strategies that cater to different age groups – between younger (e.g. below 30) and older consumers? 

Depending on the products and brands, we are looking to serve our online shoppers in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

We are reaching out to a wide-range of target audiences – there is really something for everyone. For example, historically, first jobbers may have found Robinsons’ pricing architecture out of their reach. However, we are ensuring that there is a price point that suits most demographics so that everyone can experience the Robinsons Online difference. 

iTNews Asia: With established e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Lazada, what is the main unique selling point that Robinsons sought to take advantage of to distinguish itself from the rest, and how was it applied in the online experience building process? How is Robinson reshaping the customer experience? 

Robinsons Online is focused on delivering a great online shopping experience across all the major product categories. We are a value-oriented, specialist online department store that focuses on offering “less choice of better options”.

Our site includes familiar brands that Robinsons’ customers love and trust. Homegrown brands are a key focus for us as Singaporeans have an affinity towards them. For instance, our recent collaboration with The Front Row, another Singapore fashion initiative, to showcase the creativity and talent of Singaporean and Asian designers across borders, onto the global scene. Simultaneously, “new to market” brands are introduced to give an added freshness to the portfolio which would attract new demographics.

We are here to help consumers navigate many choices and complexity of options by only selling a “good, better, best” value merchandise at compelling prices and gifts with purchases (GWPs). We want to empower consumers with the confidence in the decisions they make, not create more decisions to make.

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© iTnews Asia
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