Excellent Stores CEO: Branch closures part of online shopping plan

A woman walks past an Excellent Stores sign at the Shops of Arima at Cocorite Road in Arima last week/ - ROGER JACOB
A woman walks past an Excellent Stores sign at the Shops of Arima at Cocorite Road in Arima last week/ - ROGER JACOB

Excellent Stores announced on social media last week that, by the end of April, its Arima and Trincity Mall branches will be no more.

But Alex Siu Chong, CEO of Excellent Stores, promised customers will still get the same top-tier service with a wide number of products in the online store.

The closure of the east branches, Siu Chong said, was part of a bigger move by Excellent Stores to enhance its service by improving its online platform and enhancing the performance of its stores in MovieTowne, Mucurapo; Price Plaza, Chaguanas; and the C3 Centre, San Fernando.

Its downtown Port of Spain branch at Excellent City Centre closed last December.

Looking at the bigger picture, Siu Chong said the company is no longer able to support services in its six branches, given the current economic state, exacerbated by covid19 and worsened by foreign-exchange woes.

Shoppers flock to the Downtown, Port of Spain branch on lower Frederick Street during its closing-down sale in November last year. - SUREASH CHOLAI

He said it was a difficult decision to close the three branches regardless of their location.

“Even if we picked downtown Port of Spain, or San Fernando or MovieTowne, it would have been difficult, because in each market you have a concentrated number of customers.

“We knew that we could only support three stores, so we zoned it between north, central and south Trinidad.”

He said the closures would give the retailer the chance to pivot and improve the services at the remaining branches, while bringing an online shopping experience to customers.

A customer walks out of the Trincity branch of Excellent Stores, which is soon to be closed. - ROGER JACOB

“We have to keep in mind that the physical stores are not going away. What we have to do is see how we can operate both extremely efficiently. If companies are trying to do both and they have limited resources, something is going to fail. It is not going to be done right.

"The best thing to do is look around at what is happening in the economy, see what is in demand and try to balance the two.”

Its e-commerce store at www.myexcellentstores.com is an online platform where customers will have access to 27,000 products from about 300 local vendors in both the small and big-business sectors and would use various payment systems including Links, WiPay, and credit card.

Old site, new vision

It may come as a surprise to some, but the Excellent Stores website is not new. Siu Chong said it was launched in 2014 and the response was so overwhelming that the inventory systems could not keep up. The company had to upgrade the systems for proper tracking and delivery and the website.

Siu Chong said because the online platform had been in operation since then, by the time covid19 came along in 2020, Excellent Stores was able to adapt quickly.

But the task wasn’t easy. When the demand began growing for online support, the company's website had 8,000 products.

“We had to pivot and get 15,000 products on the site within three weeks. Now we have over 27,000.”

The online store also features some 300 local vendors, who provide everything from snacks to peripherals for digital devices to cleaning products.

Siu Chong said the online store would expose its vendors to more markets locally and regionally.

“Because we have a presence in St Lucia, and they are part of the OECS – the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, –we now have the opportunity to take products and ship it to St Lucia and fulfil all those other business-to-business services. It allows businesses, if they do not have a physical presence, an online presence in other countries.”

Staff, locations to be repurposed

Staff members are also expected to be retrained and repurposed to enhance the productivity of the online store and physical locations.

“Right now if our warehouse is overwhelmed in terms of getting products to our branches and we can’t move as fast and replenish as fast or count inventory, I need a bunch of people to be able to work on that.”

He said staff would be needed to ensure deliveries are made correctly and on time.

“The worst thing is to order something online and to hear that the store doesn’t have it or it is sold out. There is a reduced customer experience.”

While he chose not reveal how many staff members would be retrained, he said the company’s intent is to ensure that as many of their employees as possible would remain employed.

The plans for repurposing the assets were not limited to human resources. Siu Chong said even space where the Port of Spain branch was located would be part of a larger project – the revitalisation of Excellent City Centre.

“It is a historic location. We are looking to create that entire ‘Times Square’ feel. So we will be adding a two-storey extension where that mall is and then consolidate a lot of the main brands that you would find in and around Port of Spain.”

He said although fewer people are going out to shop because of covid19, their experience could be enhanced by digital means like free WiFi and digital signboards.

“We are hoping to even be able to put up a digital signboard so people could watch a movie or a cricket match.”

The plans fall in line with Government's initiative to revitalise Port of Spain. He said hopefully Excellent Stores' contribution would create "a chain reaction of productivity.

“It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses. If we do our part then maybe our neighbours would do something too, and so on."

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