Magazines Archives - 2006 March

The rebranding of Robinson
Cover Story

A growing customer base does not just mean better business, it also means a greater need to serve them better, as Angeline Yeo finds out in this exclusive coverage on Robinson Department Store in Bangkok, Thailand.

Robinson Department Store Public Company Limited, a subsidiary of Thailand’s Central Retail Corporation (CRC), began as a humble business in 1979 at the Victory Monument and has since grown tremendously to become one of Thailand’s foremost department stores, operating 19 outlets in 11 provinces in the country.

One of the reasons for Robinson’ssuccess is its relentless dedicationto achieving consumer satisfaction,says company president Preecha Ekkunagul.

The company, which recognises that its customers are the single biggest factor driving the business forward, has made ongoing investments of time, money and hard work to nurture its customer base and provide better service for them through both its marketing strategies and the adoption of IT.

Positioned as Thailand’s “most preferred store”, Robinson prides itself on providing “practical, everyday fashion at affordable prices” for the middle- to high-income, young first jobber and new family.

The store’s commitment to style and quality shines through in its product offerings, which centre on being relevant to the needs of both its loyal and new consumers. These products can be broadly divided into three main categories:

  • Soft-line products, comprising modern fashion for men and women, cosmetics and accessories, and leather and children’s products;
  • Hard-line products, including home furnishings, houseware and automobile accessories; and
  • The Exclusively @ Robinson products, which feature private labels and exclusive brands such as the ‘Robinson at home’ kitchenware and bedroom items.

Getting to know customers 
Getting to know its customers has proved beneficial for Robinson, says its president. Conducting surveys is one way that gets it up to speed with customers’ needs. “The surveys help us understand what our customers want to see in the store,” says Preecha. “This in turn aids us in our service to them.”

As proof of its success, the 25,000sqm flagship store at Rachadaphisek Road bustles with locals and foreigners, even on a Monday.

Last year, the company received positive feedback on its merchandise through a survey showing 90% of Robinson’s shoppers acknowledging that the merchandise offered at its stores had improved over the previous year. This marked a double-digit percentage jump from 2004’s 77%.

Not only was the survey an assurance that the company was on the right track, the poll also managed to gather information on who its consumers were and what they would like to see in each of its stores.

“We need to know who our customers are so that we can accurately target them,” says Preecha. The department store has identified its present largest shopper demographic as the younger generation, aged between 24 and 44. “

With globalisation, we are moving towards a one-culture society. And who understands this better than the younger generation? They travel more, and are more knowledgeable on what is going on in the world and what the trends are. They are a very formidable emerging group of consumers for Robinson,” says Preecha.

While surveys are a good source of customer insight for the company, he believes they are cumbersome and often inaccurate.

“With a growing consumer base, there is a need for greater, more indepth information,” says Preecha.

The deployment of state-of-the-art IT systems, such as the IBM SureOne Point of Sales (POS) and other IBM supported back-of-store systems, helps Robinson gain valuable, accurate information on consumer demographic, spending behaviour and preferences, he adds.

However, getting to know the consumer is but one part of building a stable customer relationship, Preecha admits. On another level, the company has to match every need of today’s demanding customer. Speed is one of these needs.

The IBM POS SureOne system has greatly accelerated the checkout time at counters, says Preecha. Its high-speed processor and ergonomic design helps staff at checkout counters move with greater speed and accuracy.

Further, “the IBM hardware and Robinson’s in-house POS software complement each other”, which, Preecha explains, is why the company chose the IT giant.

The retail company says the IBM POS SureOne runs parallel with the software conceptualised by Robinson. More importantly, this POS system makes allowances for all future software upgrades, permitting Robinson to roll out plans without having to upgrade the hardware as well. “We buy for the future,” says Preecha.

In addition, the SureOne POS system helps organise and monitor the progress at the department store’s 19 outlets, facilitating a more synergistic view of the business. With every scan of the bar code at the front end, there is a corresponding relation of data to Robinson’s back-end systems.

At the back-end, Robinson, along with CRC’s other subsidiaries, currently uses the Merchandising on IBM iSeries of financial, accounting and humanresource applications on IBM System p5 and eServer p5 series of servers, which are all connected to the IBM Enterprise Storage Server via IBM TotalStorage SAN switch.

The servers, implemented by DataPro, IBM’s business partner, are linked to the IBM TotalStorage Tape system and managed by IBM Tivoli Storage Manager. All of the solutions designed by IBM provide dynamic workload balancing, greater stability and flexibility to make changes for the backend environment.

CRC is also in the process of installing the IBM System p5 series and systemstorage servers for high-performance benefits. As the CRC group continues to expand its data centre and areas of responsibility, it will begin to use the advanced power virtualisation features of the new System p5 servers will come into play, says IBM.

This will enable CRC to consolidate applications using fewer machines, thus optimising machine utilisation, as well as saving floor space, electricity and cooling costs at the data centre.

Not only do the IBM systems require fewer system administrators, the seamless integration of both front-end and back-end systems will lead to better efficiency and ontime response to changing business requirements, improving customer service in all Robinson outlets and other CRC group subsidiaries.

With the IBM back-end system in place, Robinson’s staff can track exactly which product is more in demand in which store around the country, and make the corresponding adjustments to its supply chain. Further, with a clearer overview of all its stores, the company is better able to plan promotions and discounts according to what will best suit both the company and its customers in a specific region.

“We have consumers in 11 provinces who all have different needs. With the IT systems in place, we are able to better understand what customers in different parts of Thailand want, and then tailor our in-store promotions and sales to cater for them,” says the president.

Promoting Robinsons

“We have three basic marketing strategies,” says Preecha. “Merchandising, creating an enjoyable shopping environment and providing top service for our customers.”

As part of its merchandising technique, the company organises four nationwide promotions at regular intervals throughout the year. This has become an indelible part of the company culture.

Currently, the department store is celebrating the onset of summer, with the season’s cheery summer merchandise marketed as part of its ‘summer spirit’ campaign.

Also in tandem with the atmosphere of summer is the introduction of this season’s latest fad: The hippy-bohemian look. An explosion of colour in an array of clothes and a plethora of chunky accessories adorn the ‘Recommend Area’, a section of the store featuring the latest fashion trend, creating what Robinson coins the “bohip” look, which is all the rage at the moment.

To keep its loyal consumers abreast of the latest in the fashion world, the company researches and conceptualises its marketing strategies almost a year in advance.

Last year, it launched its “Let’s get Tanned” summer campaign, which highlighted the season’s colours in various cosmetics and beauty products.

The ‘Recommend Area’, however, does more than just display what the latest fashion trends are, says Preecha. It is part of a bigger initiative to educate consumers on the theme presented in each department of the store.

Pointing out that “consumers may not have first-hand knowledge of what’s ‘in’ at the moment”, Preecha says Robinson sees to it that the displays at its ‘Recommend Area’ presents customers with the latest in the fashion world which the store offers at “an amazingly affordable rate”.

The ‘Recommend Area’ features fashion trends that are hot off the runways of fashion capitals in Europe. “Our team researches what the latest fashions in Milan and Paris are and, within one year, we bring them to our customers in Thailand. That way, our customers stay up to date.”

Other campaigns for the rest of the year include the career-fashion promotion in June to give young first jobbers an idea of how to dress for the office; the beauty season programme in August; and the winter-collection launch in November.

Says Preecha: “From the feedback we have received, the in-store promotions and campaigns have helped our customers greatly in terms of what to wear. Some customers even request for the exact same outfit they see on the mannequin, [including] the accessories.”

Promotions have given the rapport between Robinson and its customers a leg up, he says. They also help to enhance the image of the store as a dynamic and informative place to shop, boosting the company’s overall sales volume.

The marketing campaigns are further reason for Robinson’s conscious decision to invest in IT, as POS system support is imperative to run several promotions, especially with more than one going on at the same time.

Currently, the IBM POS SureOne system allows Robinson’s staff to easily manipulate system specifications to suit the promotions of the day. To be able to easily tweak the system whenever required is important to the department store that changes its promotions daily.

“Robinson can easily customise its in-store promotions into the POS. This is essential, especially when we have campaigns and discounts that [sometimes] change on a daily basis.”

For now, the IBM POS SureOne system supports all the 1.6 million sales transactions made per month at Robinson’s 19 outlets, but it will soon allow what the company refers to as “mix and match” where the system can identify two promotions and automatically tabulate them in one transaction, easing the cashier’s task. In addition, the system will alert the counter staff to the items on promotion so the staff can then help the shopper make an informed decision to enjoy a better deal at the store. This phase of software advancements will be made available at all Robinson outlets by year-end.

Looking ahead

“Everybody knows that consumers today are getting more and more demanding,” says Preecha. To this end, Robinson is embarking on a two-pronged approach to its expansion: Develop the merchandise in its stores while increasing the number of outlets in Thailand.

At present, the company brings in top international brands from around the region, including from Singapore, Hong Kong, China and even Turkey. It plans to further grow its range of merchandise by developing unique items under its private label. These products, developed by Robinson upon the request of its customers, are sold under a brand determined by the store operator.

Commenting on the direction Thailand is headed as a consumer nation, Preecha notes: “Thai consumers are very inspired by uniqueness. They are increasingly less loyal to brands, focusing instead on good quality and premium design, which is exactly what the company strives to provide.

“There are 76 provinces in Thailand, with a population of over 65 million. We are currently present in only 11 provinces. Needless to say, there is still a huge potential in the Thai market for expansion.”

The company is set to open one to two Robinson outlets a year in Bangkok, and then venture to other provinces “where there are customers interested in fashion and lifestyle products”.

The company’s 20th outlet will open in the north of Bangkok in the fourth quarter of the year.

Priding itself on being a leader in the country’s 90,000-million-baht (US$2.31-million) department-store market, Robinson believes that offering special services to its customers is what puts it ahead of the competition. It recorded an impressive double-digit growth in gross sales, or 10.64 million baht, for fiscal 2005, and is targeting to achieve at least a 9% improvement on the figure this year.

“Robinson, now in its third decade, has been growing from strength to strength, making it one of the top-ofmind department stores in Thailand,” says Preecha.


2006 March Stories:

The rebranding of Robinson

Stores hold shoppers captive with creative solutions

FHA2006 – The Show Worth Waiting For

China’s malls and stores make the pitch with digital solutions

CPD Düsseldorf – fashion industry’s international communication platform

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