Department stores are where it’s at, guys. With Robinsons celebrating a decade in Malaysia, they’ve announced their new expansion – a brand spankin’ new, 200,000 sq. ft. store in the upcoming Four Seasons Place that spans 4 floors.

Christophe Cann, Al-Futtaim Asia Group Chief Executive Officer

Robinsons, who opened their original store on Jalan Tun Perak in 1928 (with a 32 year hiatus when the store closed in 1975) made their way back to the department store circuit in 2007, when they became the anchor tenant for The Gardens Mall. With over 600 regional, local and international brands carried by the store, 2017 is truly a memorable year for them.

Robinsons looks to ensure that shopping is filled with affordable luxuries and unique experiences, so I sat down with Christophe Cann, Group Chief Executive Officer for Al-Futtaim Asia, to chat a little about the upcoming store.


Q: So, considering that Robinsons prides itself on its heritage and timeless positioning – how does that work with appealing to the millennial market, considering that millennials are very trend-driven and brand conscious?

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Christophe: First of all, don’t tell me that we’re your aunty department store. Because we’ve been here for many, many years but we are moving with the times and we don’t want to forget about our loyal customers. That being said, our loyal customers used to be millennials also – in their 20s – and we are a trusted brand. That being said, we don’t need to spread our resources so far – you want to buy something you want, maybe something you need – so for that, you can trust in Robinsons because we are a trusted brand. In my opinion, we have the best products and we have exclusive brands.

So let’s say you want to buy a good quality bed linen, come to Robinsons, because you can buy the branded products or you can also buy our in-house brand, which is good quality at an affordable price. If you want to buy men’s or women’s fashion, you can buy from exclusive brands that are only carried within Robinsons. With that, we’re definitely moving with the times because we are bringing in new categories and new brands – such as more sneakers. We have a sneaker shop in Singapore, and we’re bringing this to Robinsons Kuala Lumpur – definitely something where you can find exclusive brands, and it’ll be much bigger.

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During the announcement launch at Sage, The Gardens Mall

Q: So, in comparison with Singaporean shoppers – what are the major differences when it comes to Malaysian shoppers?

C: I tend to think that Malaysians are a bit more fashionable than Singaporeans. [cue oohing and ahhing from the PR and myself] They’re going to hate me in Singapore for that.

The population is pretty young here, they’re fashionable, they’re well-educated and they travel a lot and so now, they’re well aware about fashion while Singapore is a bit more casual. I see more well-dressed people here than I tend to see in Singapore on a day-to-day basis. This is exactly why we want to target these customers, because we are a fashion store. We are not a luxury fashion store, we want to make fashion accessible. That’s why while we carry brands that are a bit more expensive, we also carry affordable brands.

That’s the ideal thing about the department store model – we are very flexible. We can bring in new things all the time. Our merchandising team, they’re travelling all the time to source brands from different countries – to bring the best of fashion to Malaysia. It’s not like a mall, so we control the assortment – we change brands in and out depending on what works.

Q: When it comes to brand awareness and spending capabilities, how does the Malaysian audience differ from the Singaporean one?

C: I mean, these days they’re quite similar – because everyone wants to take care of themselves. Women still buy a lot of shoes and there’s even a statistic that says that out of 10 pairs of shoes, there’s always one you’ll never wear. So, the trends are more or less the same – it’s just that people are spending differently these days, people spend more on travelling, on food, more on other things thus the pie is getting smaller. That’s why it’s important for retailers to know their customers, to really give them what they want.

The thing is, it’s not about what you need. You want a new dress, you don’t need a new dress. So, if I can attract you with something new – you might say “okay, I’ll cut back on the travelling because I want that new dress”. The process is, I tell you I have a new dress, I need to tell you that I might have a new dress that you might like because I know your taste because I know you from your previous buy, so I push with digital marketing to really push the product message, and then you come to the store. You may not come alone, you may come with a friend – then if you’re happy, the best marketing is through word-of-mouth from you and your friend. Then I’ll build a relationship with you and your friend.

Q: Now that more and more retailers are going digital, what are your thoughts on the physical vs. digital divide?

C: Yes, everyone is talking about going digital and it’s what’s happening, but the total percentage of sales done online is still very small in comparison. Some statistics say that by 2020, digital sales will be about 25-26% of total sales. That does mean that retailers have to cater to 95% of consumers needs offline. Of course, Robinsons is doing online too, but as I said, we are shifting from offline marketing to online marketing and in Singapore, we do have an online store – you can shop online and we are willing to launch it in Malaysia as well. It’s just click and pay, with home delivery.


Q: In terms of consumer behaviour, now that Robinsons is bringing in more contemporary brands – what are your next steps in tapping into the millennial market?

C: We’re planning on turning Robinsons into the place to see and to be seen, because if you shop online – you don’t need to put on makeup, you don’t need to do your hair, you can stay in your pyjamas and then you become fat and you can stay in bed. It’s true. And we are all human beings, so when you go to a nice department store like Robinsons – you want to dress up, you want to look nice, you want to show off a bit, we’re all the same. That being said, we really want to make Robinsons a happening place.

This is why we’re investing a lot in visual merchandising, in events, in proper staff training, in F&B – it’s all about food these days. You don’t need to dress up, but you need to eat everyday.


Q: You mean, you need to eat things that you can take a photo of every day.

C: Yes, exactly. So, we are taking all this into account, the customer needs and we are trying to build something that really answers to their needs.


Q: In your opinion, out of all the brands that Robinsons carries – which brands have the most potential for growth within the Malaysian market?

C: I think it’s not only about brands, it’s about categories. I tend to think that ladies accessories are something that we are willing to invest in, since the subcategories are pretty wide and it’s shifting from beauty and cosmetics into bags, jewellery, shoes, so on and so forth. So it’s definitely a category we’re willing to expand. Same for men’s, because it’s not like women – we don’t have as many toys to play with. We do have watches, sunglasses, shoes as well – I know there are some people in Malaysia who come to Robinsons Singapore to buy shoes specifically, and those brands are exclusive to Robinsons. That’s what we want to be known for.


Q: So, it’s that uniqueness then.

C: Exactly.

Robinsons Four Seasons Place is slated for a Spring 2018 launch. While staying true to their historic values, they plan to shake things up for KL. Stay tuned to The Level MY for more news as it breaks.