The future of retail is about to be delivered to Hong Kong’s commercial developers, and it’s coming via the Internet, according to a report released today by property consultancy JLL.
The company’s report on the city’s shopping scene, “Reimagining Retail – Bricks, Mortar and the Evolution of E-Commerce in Hong Kong,” forecasts that the value of Internet retail sales in the Asian financial hub will reach US$3.7 billion by 2021, nearly double the US$1.8 billion transacted in 2016.
However, although government statistics forecast that e-commerce in Hong Kong will have grown at an average of more than 16 percent per year from 2016 through 2021, the burgeoning online sector will become a component in retailer strategies, rather than a replacement for in-store sales, according to the company’s analysts.
Ecommerce Growth May Not Lead to Lower Rents
“As the US and mainland China markets have seen an increasing number of vacant shops, together with the continuous growth in online sales, some of our clients start to worry that the demand for brick and mortar stores will diminish once Hong Kong’s online retail takes off,” said Denis Ma, Head of Research at JLL in a press conference held in Hong Kong.
According to the report, some 90 percent of the city’s landlords believe online sales will grow over the next five years. However, despite a spate of cut-rate lease deals in a number of the city’s top retail locations, that may not translate into lower rents at Hong Kong’s malls.
“We don’t see the growth in online retail to be a significant factor in influencing rents in the short term. Factors like the number of tourists coming to Hong Kong and unemployment rate are more relevant to the rental level,” said Eric Cheng, Local Director of Retail at JLL.
Some of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts have witnessed sharp rent cuts during the past few months. In March, fashion brand Twist leased a two-storey shop at 24-26 East Point Road in prime shopping district Causeway Bay for 56 percent less than the HK$1.1 million monthly rent that the previous tenant had been paying.
On Russell Street in the same district, which formerly ranked as the most expensive retail strip in the world, Swatch Group last month secured a 33 percent cut in it’s HK$1 milliion per month rent when it renewed a lease originally signed in 2015.
HK Retail Goes Omnichannel
While online retail may not mean an end to traditional shopping, landlords will have to be ready to accommodate retailers that are selling to consumers who use smartphones and desktops for their shopping as much as they rely on strolls through the mall.
“The future of the retail market of Hong Kong lies in its evolution into omni-channel retailing,” Ma said at a media briefing on the report. “From our perspective, the growing popularity of mobile payments and wider adoption of big data analytics will move us in this direction, as well as enhancing the overall shopping experience of consumers. This certainly requires retailers and landlords, such as mall operators, to invest more heavily in technology.”
Ma predicts that online retailers will look into establishing brick and mortar stores while existing physical retailers will open up online platforms in the future. “As the rental market is expected to bottom out within this year, our advice to retailers looking to move into bricks and mortar is that they should act fast. Because in a few months’ time, there will be fewer vacant shops available,” said Ma.
Last year, Chinese phone maker Xiaomi opened two physical showrooms in Hong Kong after the tech unicorns sales had grown 40 percent in the city as of October last year. The Chinese firm originally adopted an online-only strategy by selling its products directly to customers online before it started opening brick and mortar stores in mainland China in 2015.
Small Living Space Drives People to Malls
Hong Kong’s Internet retail grew at a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent from 2011 to 2016, and is expected to grow by 16.1 percent in the next five years, data from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council shows. While the growth rate seems steady, the online retail market in the city remains underdeveloped. Online shopping will account for just 6.1 percent of the city’s total retail sales in 2021, well below the 17.3 percent average in Asia.
The relatively slow expansion of the Hong Kong’s online retail industry is attributed in part to the city’s famously tight living quarters. With 80 percent of the existing private homes below 70 square metres (753 square feet) in area, people tend to spend their leisure time outside of their homes, often in malls, according to Ma.
A high density of retail shops, poorly designed online platforms and an ageing population also hindered the development of online retail in the city, Ma added.