KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — This city, the largest in Malaysia, has unveiled sprawling shopping complexes at two of its prime transportation hubs: the Nu Sentral Mall at the Central Train Station and the “Mall With the Gates” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Malaysians, many of them self-declared shopping addicts, are now boasting that while many airports and train stations all over the world may contain numerous boutiques and even some department stores, Kuala Lumpur has achieved something new: It has built entire shopping malls.
Sentral is one of the biggest train stations in Southeast Asia, but it is also quickly becoming the new center of the capital, boasting large office buildings that rub shoulders with the Hilton, Aloft, Le Méridien and (still under construction) St. Regis hotels, as well as the Nu Sentral Mall and the national museum. It is part of the biggest commercial development project in the city: CBD, or “commercial business district,” a 1.4 billion ringgit, or $418 million, city-within-a-city concept encompassing Nu Sentral Mall and the 32-story office tower Perdana Sentral and designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa.
From here, travelers can begin their journey aboard a long-distance train to Singapore or Penang directly from the mall or take a commuter train, monorail or light rail after shopping at H&M. They can change between two different modes of public transportation by walking beside the Victoria’s Secret or Pedro shoe stores or grab some of the latest cosmetics at L’Occitane as they journey from their office towers to the monorail.
The development’s motto is “Nu Sentral, Nu Experiences.” The 1.3 million-square-foot mall promotes itself as “the first Malaysian integrated ‘green’ lifestyle and transit mall hub, developed to optimize the changing lifestyles of Malaysians and international travelers,” with a captive market of more than 800,000 households and a total population of more than 3.6 million.
The epicenters of Nu Sentral are two multistory stores: Parkson and H&M.
“Our goal is to become the first shopping destination at this new mall,” said Gary Lee, a manager at H&M. “We provide the best selection for shoppers on the go. Our location is very strategic. As we are a fashion outlet for fast-moving customers, our strategy is to put our latest fashion near the entrance. We have to attract customers, right from the first sight. This is a bit of a different concept from the other stores in the city.”
But does Nu Sentral, with its 41 fashion stores, 17 health and beauty units as well as Parkson and H&M, only serve commuters?
“Our customers are mostly office workers from around here,” Lee said. “But we also count on transit passengers, foreigners from both Europe and North America as well as Asians from Indonesia, China and Taiwan.”
A sales clerk at the Victoria’s Secret store said, “Our best-selling products here in Malaysia are fragrances. Seventy-five percent of our sales are from fragrances and beauty products. Although commuters passing through Nu Sentral are sophisticated, they are also conservative. Many are too shy to buy lingerie, which Victoria’s Secret is known for worldwide. Women here are not comfortable buying sexy underwear like they are in other countries. I think it is cultural.
“We have many returning customers,” he added. “Although we are in a transit mall, we are always ready to assist customers, to educate them about our products. I think that’s what makes them return to our stores again and again. We should also remember that many of our customers often pass by here twice a day, five days a week. The prices here are the same as elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur, but we have frequent promotions.”
Not everyone sees the short-term future of stores at Nu Sentral as rosy. At Levi’s and Dockers, for instance, there is still very little reason for optimism. According to Wind Lim, a manager, “Sales have been very slow, although, as you can see, we have the perfect locations for our two brand stores. Our prices are the same as elsewhere, so we are not sure what is going on. We have conducted several promotions but to no effect. Sales are still slow. Maybe the local market is dying? It seems that the stores don’t attract many people. Locals and foreign passengers just window-shop — at least most of them — and the same can be said about the office workers.”
Candy Chia, the manager at the Singaporean brand store Charles & Keith, is more optimistic. “Our strategies here are up-to-date products and mix-and-match for shoes and handbags. One of our flagship stores is at Changi Airport in Singapore, so we learnt from them how to attract travelers,” she said. “Our products are made in China, Singapore and the Malaysian city of Ipoh. Our best-selling products are the handbags and wedges. Our clients are mostly locals, but we count on many tourists, as well — those coming from China, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Korea.”
Some 50 miles away from the center of Kuala Lumpur and only about a half-hour ride aboard a high-speed train stands the edifice of Klia2, a new discount-airline terminal that opened its gates last May. It represents yet another regional shopping experience. The mall cost $1.35 billion, and its retail space measures 344,500 square feet and is capable of hosting 225 stores. Not all of them are occupied yet, but at the rate things are going, they will be soon.
The terminal’s annual capacity is 45 million passengers. From the moment a passenger arrives until he or she is ready to board a plane, they are overwhelmed by the boutiques and duty shops all around them, ranging from Burberry and Coach to Versace and Hermès.
But some store managers still complain that sales are sluggish.
“Sales have been very slow since we opened. In Klia, it was much better. Maybe because this [Klia2] is geared for low-cost airlines, travelers are not looking for such high-luxury brands here, yet,” said Samuel Manahar, the manager at Hugo Boss at Klia2.
Sallihin Hj Mohamad, the manager of Emporium Fashion boutique, which sells brands including Furla, See by Chloé, Oroton and Barbara Rihl, agreed, saying, “Although our products here are all duty-free, sales have been very slow. I think the prices for this terminal are too high.”
But Klia2 is increasingly gaining a reputation as a hip shopping destination as well as a desirable transit hub.
“This is one of the most hedonistic and coolest terminals on earth,” said Amorsita Lopez, a business manager from Manila. “Furla, Boss, Michael Kors, Aigner, Burberry, Bulgari, Hermès, Ferragamo, Versace…and all those traditional Malaysian kebayas…This is a great scoop: fly cheaply and spend all that you have saved on the ticket here.”