When it comes to retail opportunities in emerging markets, Asia is tops and China is the crown jewel.
Despite having the lowest economic gains in more than two decades, China’s retail sector was red-hot last year, growing 11.6 percent, according to A.T. Kearney’s Global Retail Development Index. Generally, economists consider retail growth of between three and five percent to be strong.
After not being number one for five years, China took the top spot again in the research report, which ranks 30 countries in emerging markets via two dozen “retail-specific” and economic metrics. This year’s report also includes a spotlight on luxury brands, and the analysts categorized countries based on how well-entrenched luxury brands are in those markets.
In the overall rankings, the analysts noted that over the next seven years, China’s retail market is forecast to grow to $8 trillion, which is twice that of the U.S. The analysis also showed Asia as the top regional performer – even as it experienced an economic slowdown. And as news headlines can attest, emerging markets have experienced some intense challenges.
“As a result of turbulence in the Middle East, Latin America, and Russia, the past year has seen a more cautious approach to international expansion into some developing markets,” said Mike Moriarty, A.T. Kearney partner and coauthor of the GRDI. “However, retailers are taking a longer-term view of emerging markets, with fewer exits, and more targeted investments in areas of growth.”
In China, the authors said retailers are “adapting to an environment of slower economic growth.” This adaptation is centered on an strategic emphasis on market share and profitability, which can be seen by recent store closures and by “optimizing store portfolios,” the authors said. For example, the market leaders closed about 200 stores in the country last year, compared with 35 closures in 2013.
Most of the closures involved grocery chains and department stores. It’s a different story, though, when it comes to specialty stores and luxury. The researchers said over the next two years, Apple aims to expand its units to 40 stores from 15 now and there’s already been a burst of growth from fast fashion.
“Global fast fashion retailers opened a combined 264 stores in 2014, including 80 Uniqlo stores, 60 H&M stores, and 16 Zara stores,” the authors said. “Luxury players are also expanding despite China’s anti-corruption policy, which many feared would dampen demand. Hermès opened its fifth Maison Hermès in the world in Shanghai, and Lane Crawford opened its third Mainland China store in Chengdu.”
Meanwhile, as a region, Asia is experiencing robust e-commerce sales. The region’s e-commerce market stands at $525 billion, which exceeds North America’s $483 billion. “As Internet penetration expands and online offerings improve, Asia’s ecommerce retail sales could grow as much as 25 percent annually,” the authors said. “The online channel will continue to be a major focus for retailers in the region in the coming years.”
Regarding other regions, socioeconomic volatility has been a key factor. “In the Middle East and Latin America, for example, turbulence brought a more cautious approach to international expansion, but at the same time retailers made few significant market exits,” the authors said, adding that Russia has been an exception as “the heightened political risk” there triggered “sizeable closures or complete exits from players such as Adidas, franchisee Maratex, and Mexx, among others.”
From a higher elevation, the analysts said retailers have increased their understanding of emerging markets as well as how to navigate “shifting economic and political trends.”
In the luxury spotlight, the authors said presence in emerging markets is important for brands because these regions represent 30 percent of the global luxury market. “Luxury remains a relatively bright spot in emerging markets, as the wealthy have proven less vulnerable to economic woes than the general population,” said Hana Ben-Shabat, A.T. Kearney partner and GRDI coauthor.
The report categorized countries into three tiers based on luxury brand presence. The first tier is “established markets,” which have 11 to 15 brands, and includes: Brazil, China, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The next tier is “middle of the pack,” which have six to 10 brands, and includes: Azerbaijan, Colombia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Panama and the Philippines. The last tier is “emerging luxury markets,” which have up to five brands, and includes: Angola, Botswana, Chile, Mongolia, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Sri Lanka and Uruguay.
The authors said there are opportunities for luxury brands “no matter where you look, but luxury brands’ strategies have to be tailored to the local market to succeed.”
For example, the report noted that developed luxury markets such as China and the UAE can be less risky, but are more competitive too. “In mid-sized markets such as India, players need to actively build their brands and be ready to pounce once luxury real estate becomes available,” the report stated. “For those that are more intrepid, breaking ground in new frontiers could pay off big in the long run if they can get past the initial challenges.”