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Spa cabins and omnichannel experiences in department stores: how BHG is fighting to stay relevant

One Assembly will take over the space vacated by Robinsons Group in Raffles City

Physical retail has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic which has accelerated the move to e-commerce for businesses. The Drum finds out from BHG Singapore why it believes having a retail presence is still key.

A creative collaboration between Beijing Hualian Group (BHG) Singapore and property giant CapitaLand, the creation of One Assembly is intended to innovate traditional department stores which has been on the wane in recent times.

Department stores globally are closing bricks-and-mortar stores in the face of the huge growth of e-commerce and the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated weak demand for offline shopping as people stay at home because of lockdown restrictions imposed by countries.

Jheeva Subramanian, the chief financial officer of BHG Singapore, explains that to stay relevant in the changing retail landscape during Covid-19, the retailer has embarked continuous reinvention to bring new retail experiences to its customers.

The department store will feature two spa cabins for shoppers to test beauty products. Omnichannel will also be a key focus for the store, where shoppers can pay with cashless payments and buy products from One Assembly on CapitaLand’s digital platform ecapitamall.com in the future.

“Experiential offerings, curated products, and emphasis on offering international, designer quality products and brands at affordable prices straight to customers doorsteps,” he explains.

“For example, the recent refresh of our Level 1 Beauty Hall at our Bugis flagship store has been receiving great response from our customers, and we are heartened that our reinvention efforts have been well-received.”

He continues: “In the same vein, we will be extending these experiences into our collaboration with Raffles City at One Assembly. In addition we will also be introducing new brands to Raffles City such as Dyson, Somebeau, Privia , and 57’N for beauty; Akemi, Cannon, Grand Atelier and LIVIN' for Home.”

Subramanian adds that as an extension of its experiential offerings, BHG is offering all its beauty brands at One Assembly the opportunity to offer more holistic and comprehensive services to their clientele. All beauty brands are invited to reserve usage of the Beauty Concierge room located at Level 2, where facial and makeup services will be provided.

One Assembly will take over the space vacated by Robinsons Group in Raffles City after the 160-year-old retailer closed all its stores in Singapore because of liquidation. Robinsons was acquired by Al Futtaim Group in 2008 and launched its first e-commerce store in 2016 as part of its digital transformation drive.

Robinsons, which had over 271,000 sq. ft. in retail space in two locations in Singapore, suffered losses for at least the last six years from shrinking sales. In 2018, it sank $54.4 million into the red after revenue fell to $153.8 million. At its high, turnover was $257.3 million in 2014.

Subramanian declined to comment directly on Robinson’s failures and what lessons can be drawn from it, and would only say that BHG has a long term relationship with CapitaLand, with mutual trust and respect.

“One Assembly is a creative collaboration between us, and each party brings its expertise to the collaboration. It's a first of its kind experiment and we hope it will show the way for the future,” he says.

“The advantage of our collaboration is that we will be able to reach out to shoppers from Raffles City, BHG, CapitaLand's loyalty programme CapitaStar and the e-platform, eCapitaMall. Our 360 approach will include in-mall, in-app and other digital outreach.”

This is not the first time CapitaLand has attempted to revive brick and mortar shopping. It recently revamped the Funan mall into a mall that embraces omnichannel through click-and-collect services, relies heavily on technology and even operates an urban farm.