In the last two years, an increasing number of Asia-Pacific (APAC) retailers have embraced overseas expansion, according to new research by commercial real estate company CBRE.

The report, Rise of APAC Retailers 2018, analyzed 600 openings in the region, and revealed that the proportion of APAC retailers (predominantly F&B operators, fashion and beauty brands) had increased from 17% - 30% between 2014 and 2018, accounting for almost a third of new regional entrants. The strongest target markets were China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, while most retailers expanding into APAC territories were from Australia, Japan and Korea.

The APAC retail industry has expanded at a CAGR of 10.2% from 2013-2018 and poses strong growth potential — this is driven by economic and social developments, population growth, changing consumer trends, rising purchasing power and penetration of international players.

This year, as the world battles COVID-19 and as countries figure out strategies to improve their economies, we’re looking at how the APAC retail industry has been impacted and exploring its outlook in the “new normal.”

The coronavirus outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on consumer markets around the world, due to lockdowns in many countries and stay-at-home directives. This has led to a serious disruption in retail consumption in APAC, with most malls and shops in the region ceasing operations. For instance, mainland Chinese retail sales decreased by 20.5% year on year during the first two months of 2020 and although there was a small increase in March, sales were still down 15.8%, when retail operations gradually began to return to normal.

However, although the retail industry has been thrown into uncertainty, certain retailers have experienced a surge in sales as countries reopened their economies in the last few weeks. Some brands across China for instance are seeing store sales return to 80% - 100% of pre-COVID trading levels as the country relaxes lockdown measures. For example, Nike has kept its China business from stalling, thanks to a fitness app that helped homebound consumers do quarantine workouts, proving that brands can overcome the coronavirus impact with the help of technology and innovation.

In terms of the apparel market, GlobalData expects fast-growing APAC markets including China, India and South Korea to improve their positions in the top ten global apparel markets by 2023, while mature Western markets are still assessing where this market stands and which retailers will rebound.

With a surge in online shopping during the pandemic, will people still visit shopping malls in future? We believe — and preliminary reports are showing — that people will still go to malls, as in-store shopping offers a unique experience that is lacking in virtual shopping. Physical retailers have a strong advantage over online merchants. This can include the ability to create immersive experiences that promote an emotional attachment between customers and the retail space. Given a choice, people will still prefer to touch, see and feel the product that they are buying, especially for apparel, shoes, jewellery and bags. There are also products, for example luxury items such as cars, that are rarely sold online due to their price point and nature. Furthermore, dedicated customer service offered at physical stores is not found virtually. In-store technology will be key to bringing shoppers back into the store, while keeping them safe and informed.

Consumer and retailer trends are showing that the pandemic will accelerate digital transformation in the retail sector, as there is a race to revolutionize in-store shopping as retailers strive to differentiate themselves from their competitors. There will be a strong emphasis on omni-channel retail, convenience and seamless integration between online and offline shopping.

The latest retail solutions are empowering retailers to deliver more engaging experiences and unprecedented convenience by leveraging digital signage and cutting-edge marketing technologies. Besides offering personalization at scale, digital signage helps to deliver the right messaging to the target audience, communicate brand values and enhance interactivity, ultimately creating a desirable brand experience to boost sales.

Furthermore, we expect a rise in “click-and-collect” options and digital marketplaces in malls in the region. Last month, CapitaLand launched the first mall-operated integrated digital marketplace for tenants in Singapore. These platforms offer shoppers the flexibility to browse items online before purchasing in-store. Simultaneously, shoppers have the option to browse in-store before purchasing items online and opt for home delivery or in-store collection.

Retail malls are also emerging as the primary meeting, entertainment and community spaces in Singapore, with a shrinking percentage of their revenue and space dedicated to traditional retailers. As experiential retail and activities become more prevalent, shopping malls are expected to shift their tenancy mix to attract more activity-based tenants and activities to entice repeat patronage and extend dwell time among patrons. In this regard, shopping malls will consider utilising advanced digital technologies to gather actionable insights on shopper behavior and store operations.

It is evident that the coronavirus crisis has created a complex scenario for the retail sector. To survive in the long-run, retailers are compelled to continuously rethink and restrategize their business. The evolving expectations of consumers, spurred on by competition from online retailers, will propel retail transformation. What we are looking at is a retail revolution, not an apocalypse.

This article was written by Esther Chew, who is our Marketing Communications Manager located in our APAC office.

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