…the ION Orchard store. Another one bites the dust
Main entrance of H&M ION Orchard store
Was the writing on the wall when H&M closed their store in Tampines Mall in August 2020 and then at Waterway Point in Punggol in January 2021. The Swedish retailer announced via a photo message on Facebook that the ION Orchard outlet will be shut next month, on 12 March. Despite the impending closure, H&M happily stated that “new beginning awaits!”. It also added: “Don’t worry. We’ll meet in other places”, without saying what would cause the worry or if “other places” meant outside our island, or within. With the ION Orchard store shuttered, the chain is left with eight others spread across our city. It is not known how many of these will remain. On Orchard Road, only one H&M store stands: the once-open-till-11pm, three-storey flagship at Orchard Building on Grange Road will continue to operate.
The H&M ION Orchard store opened in 2012, the year the ‘Lemons Laws’ were passed to protect consumers from good found to be defective after purchase. With two stories (the lower floor houses the men’s and kids’ departments), it is the chain’s second largest here. It is also in this MRT station-level location that the label’s designer collaborations were launched (other than at the flagship, some 700 metres away). Those who chose to get in line outside this store felt it was a more comfortable space to camp overnight as it was “not affected by the elements”, one regular queue folk told us. H&M apparently would be stepping up its digital presence in the wake of reduced numbers of brick-and-mortar stores and attendant traffic. ION Orchard has not announced what or which brand will takeover the two units that H&M will soon vacate.
The B3 entrance to the men’s department
The last of the window displays before the store closes
Way before the pandemic arrived, we had already noticed that H&M was looking slack. Visual merchandising was beginning to be non-existent, even the clothes on the racks were not pressed. One “former” H&M fan told us that the offerings were beginning to “look nasty”. At some time in early 2019, even the Orchard Building flagship, where the press office is sited, appeared like a preface to closure: just racks of clothes with no displays on shelves above them. Reportedly, this store will be “revamped”, a H&M spokesperson told the press. But it would not surprise us that even their biggest outlet, where the brand’s home decor line is available during the Christmas season, would shutter. In Tokyo last August, H&M closed their Harajuku flagship (it sat in a dedicated building next to ABC Mart) on Meiji-dori, following the similar fate of their first Tokyo store in Ginza in 2018. It would be surprising that this was not the result of the heat felt from other fast fashion brands, such as Shein, now with physical stores in Osaka and Tokyo.
At the ION Orchard store this morning, the number of shoppers was dismal. Most of them appeared to be tourists or domestic workers on their day off. At the main entrance on B2, merchandise for the Lunar New Year greeted us with little cheer. We walked around and noted that, aesthetically, H&M has not changed: a jumble of clothes and little else. Everything on the racks had scant hanger appeal. We spotted a staffer folding clothes in front of an island display. We walked to the chap and casually asked him when the store will close. He told us that it will likely be on 12 March or “some time in the middle of next month.” We asked him what could be the reason for the impending closure, and he quickly replied, “that one I don’t know because the staff is not supposed to know.” Still curious, we pressed on: Will there be a clearance sale? Pointing to a rack behind us, he replied helpfully, “all the sale items are there.”
Photos: Chin Boh Kay