eCommerce won’t dent Asian retail real estate demand

Growing online sales will not undermine demand for Asian retail real estate, according to the latest CBRE study of major international brands.

For the seventh edition of How Active Are Retailers Globally?, the real-estate company looked at more than 150 major international brands based in Americas, Asia Pacific and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) countries.

China is the top target market in the Asia Pacific (APAC) and fourth-ranked globally, with 27 per cent of retailers looking to expand there. Hong Kong follows in sixth position (24 per cent), Japan in seventh (22 per cent) and Singapore in ninth (21 per cent). The top three globally were Germany (35 per cent), France (33 per cent) and the UK (29 per cent).

China and Hong Kong maintained their placings, while Japan, Singapore and Australia (11th) all rose higher in the ranking, up from 13th, 18th and 15th positions respectively.

“Hong Kong will remain a desirable market for retailers, particularly as it continues to serve as a popular shopping destination for mainland Chinese tourists,” says CBRE Hong Kong executive director for retail services Joe Lin.

“The main difference is a shift from luxury to mid-range brands. This is forcing luxury retailers to consolidate their footprint, leading to a drop in rental cost in prime locations and therefore opportunities for non-luxury retail brands.”

Most APAC markets saw increased interest for this year, with the exception of China and South Korea. Malaysia (10 per cent), Indonesia (9 per cent), Thailand, Vietnam and The Philippines (all 8 per cent) received more than double the interest they saw last year, when all markets secured between 1 and 3 per cent.

Asked about the risk factors for the coming year, brands indicated that real-estate cost escalation (56 per cent) and unclear economic prospects (42 per cent) continue to be at the forefront of their minds.

“We’re seeing more of a challenging economic environment, and concerns such as high operating costs and a lack of quality space means retailers are somewhat more wary this year,” says CBRE head of Asia Pacific research Dr Henry Chin. “However, even as markets such as China and Hong Kong are experiencing a slowdown, we see increasing numbers of opportunistic retailers looking to enter markets like Hong Kong, supported by strong underlying consumer demand.

“Japan and Australia remain attractive, while Southeast Asia showed strong growth because of opportunities for retailers around an expanding middle class and stronger economic growth.” CBRE senior director and head of retailer representation for Asia Joel Stephen says there are still opportunities for retailers to grow their business in Asia, underscored by the region having four of the 10 most popular destinations. “The goal now for all brick-and-mortar retailers is to build an engaging offer that encourages people to stay longer and spend more.”

The survey shows that 83 per cent of brands suggest their physical store expansion plans for this year will not be affected by the growth of eCommerce. From a retailer perspective, only 22 per cent of the brands see stiff competition from online retailing as a threat to their business.


At the same time, retailers are cautiously optimistic on physical expansion. Of those canvassed, 17 per cent have large-scale ambitions, many of them looking to open more than 40 stores this year (up from 9 per cent last year), while 67 per cent plan to open up to 20 stores.

“A physical store presence in key locations is still critical to the strength of a brand’s image,” says Stephen. “Customers still feel a need to go into stores, to physically touch a product and enjoy the feel-good factor associated with a particular brand experience. The store is integral to the shopping journey and can be used in different ways, such as to click and collect, research of the product or brand, or to test the product. It isn’t solely about the transactional side.”

A new trend is brands looking to expand into travel hubs, such as airports and train stations, giving them access to high footfall in busy locations. But for APAC retailers, shopping malls are still the preferred destination by far, at close to 90 per cent.

While globally the key concern for brands in negotiations for premises is lease length, APAC retailers are most concerned with turnover rent clauses (GP). They are also particularly concerned about changing consumer behaviour (40 per cent), which is higher than the global average (31 per cent).

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