Retail Apocalypse in Singapore — 7 Popular Brands That Went Bust or Closed Down
Although the term “retail apocalypse” was originally coined to describe the fast decline of many huge North American chains, it basically refers to e-commerce-inflicted death of brick-and-mortar stores all over the world.
7 Popular brands that went bust or closed down
In Singapore, not only are the American chains closing down, but local start-ups as well. From fast fashion to publishing, here are 7 high-profile businesses that crumbled under pressure.
1. Forever21 — filed for bankruptcy protection
This one is recent: Just a few weeks ago (30 Sep 2019), news broke that American fashion brand Forever 21 had filed for bankruptcy protection.
In layman terms, that basically means Forever 21 is about to “pok gai” lah.
The brand had its heyday back in the 90s to 2000s, but the store numbers have since dwindled, leaving just one at [email protected] Although many are wondering when the physical store will shut its doors — hoping for a closing down sale, perhaps? — there seems to be no news on that.
According to reports by The Straits Times, a store supervisor said that there is still 2 years left on the lease. Lendlease (which runs the mall) said that there has been no change to Forever 21’s lease yet.
This news is not shocking at all — Forever21 is hardly the first fast fashion brand to go bust. In recent years, Singapore has seen Factorie, Gap, Banana Republic, American Eagle Outfitters and more exit the market as well.
I guess it’s goodbye brick-and-mortar, hello blogshops.
2. Honestbee — no more food delivery & laundry services
Things were looking pretty promising at first: local start-up Honestbee launched its tech-lifestyle concept in end-2018, Habitat by Honestbee, which seemed to be doing well.
However, just half a year later, CEO and co-founder Joel Sng resigned in May 2019. Shortly after, it was announced that Honestbee would be ceasing their food delivery and laundry services. Due to low funds, they’ve even allegedly tried selling operations to rivals Grab and GoJek.
They also paused overseas operations, and cut 10% of their global headcount as part of a strategic review.
But although the food delivery and laundry arm have gone bust, the company is not giving up.
On 2 Aug 2019, Honestbee applied to the High Court to begin its court-supervised restructuring process. This includes a 6-month break from enforcement actions and legal proceedings so they can clean up their act.
The plan is to focus on the grocery delivery and Habitat businesses, possibly even expanding to other countries in the region like South Korea. Taiwan and Malaysia.
3. MPH bookstores — closed last 2 stores, but reopening in Nov 2019
Shame on all of you who’ve been reading e-books on your fancy Kindles! Bookstores are slowly closing down one by one, and now, children will no longer understand the joys that come with smelling the pages of new books.
In July and September 2019, MPH closed their last 2 outlets at Raffles City and Parkway Parade due to high rental costs.
This upset many, who had fond memories of the old MPH Building at Stamford Road. MPH has had over 100 years in the book business, and it would truly be a shame if it all went up in air.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the permanent end (well, not yet, at least). Upon closing, MPH announced that they will look for an alternative location to consolidate their stores.
They eventually found one, and will be reopening as a book-lifestyle store at SingPost Centre come Nov 2019.
4. Borders — parent company went bust, closed for good
Although MPH managed to stay in the biz, their rival, Borders didn’t. The American book retail chain used to take up most of Wheelock Place, and was one of my favourite childhood haunts. I remember spending afternoons at reading books, and having pasta at the cafe after.
Although there was a big hooha when the flagship store opened in 1997, business quickly declined. Many attributed this to the “browsing culture” — everyone went there to hang out and read, but nobody actually bought the books.
In Feb 2011, Borders’ parent company REDgroup Retail went bust, resulting in the Wheelock Place bookstore’s closure in Aug 2011. In Sep 2011, the Parkway Parade store followed suit.
In 2013, Popular Holdings announced that they will be reopening a Borders store at Westgate. The stint was short-lived though — it closed 5 months later.
The Westgate “Borders” is now regular Popular store, and Borders Singapore is gone for good.
5. Uber — SEA operations acquired by Grab
Who can forget the former ride-hailing kings, Uber?
Uber started out in San Francisco in 2009, and rapidly transformed the transport industry as we knew it. According to a report by ChannelNews Asia, Uber’s value jumped from US$60 million to a whopping US$17 billion from 2011 to 2014.
They expanded to over 100 cities, but soon enough, local copycats started popping up in each market, slowly beating Uber in the business.
In Singapore, Uber was the first to disrupt the taxi-scene, but got kicked out of the race by Grab, who bought over their Southeast Asia business. That’s right — Uber wasn’t just ousted from the Singapore market; Grab took over all operations in the region.
The news was super sensational, with Grab getting slapped with a $13 million fine by the local watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS).
On a global scale though, Uber is still very much alive. Although on the surface, it seems very much like Uber was in hot soup, many industry experts feel that it was a positive, strategic move to trim their portfolio.
6. Toys R Us — went bust, but in the U.S. only
Last year, there was speculation that long-running toy store Toys R Us would be closing down for good. In Sep 2017, the U.S. chain filed for bankruptcy. By Mar 2018, the U.S. chain was doomed — debt-plagued, Toys R Us closed down some 700+ stores in America.
Surprisingly though, the Singapore stores were unaffected. That’s because Toys R Us (Asia) is a separate entity and financially independent from the U.S. one.
A rep even said that they are opening new stores each year, particularly in China.
7. Crabtree & Evelyn — closed all physical stores, may reopen after restructuring
In Jan 2019, bath-beauty brand Crabtree & Evelyn shocked Singapore by closing all 12 of their local stores.The British company filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada in Dec 2018, and had planned to move their business online, save for one retail concept store in London.
Fans were upset, and flocked to the outlets for the closing-down sales. Many loyal customers had hundreds of dollars in vouchers that were soon going to be worthless.
We all thought that was the end, but in July 2019, the brand made a comeback. They revamped the packaging and widened their range of products. Now, they have cookies, tea and even fudge for sale.
They also announced that they intend to reopen their physical stores. However, they’ve not disclosed in which cities — fans better keep their fingers crossed that Singapore will be one of them!
What do you think of these brands that closed down? Tell us in the comments below!