Retail sales revenue has more than doubled in the past 10 years, but growth in the number of shops and staff is lagging far behind, the latest statistics suggest.
Shop workers say consumer demand is outpacing supply, leading to crowded stores and poor service.
Figures from the Hong Kong Retail Management Association show that retail sales revenue more than doubled from HK$172.9 billion in 2003 to HK$445.5 billion in 2012.
Meanwhile the number of shops climbed a more modest 13.5 per cent to 63,909 in the same period, and the number of people employed in the industry rose 22 per cent to 260,246.
"That's why it is so crowded in shops, and customers have nobody to serve them," the association's chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king said.
Mak said the industry was less diverse than in the past as landlords tended to rent their premises to a small selection of chain stores catering to mainland tourists. The government should find more land for shopping malls and look into the possibility of importing labour to support long-term growth, she said.
Total retail space reached 180 million square metres in 2012, said Maureen Fung Sau-yim, general manager of Sun Hung Kai Properties' leasing department.
Between 2008 and 2012, 1.1 million square metres of retail floor space was added every year. In the next five years the rise was projected to be lower, at 700,000 square metres a year, and mostly in the New Territories, Fung said.
Increasingly, developers were renovating existing malls in light of the scarcity of new land for retail development, she said.
Business in shopping malls is forecast to remain brisk in line with strong economic growth. Single-digit growth in retail sales from January to September last year sped up during the autumn to break into double digits.
Fung expected attendance at Sun Hung Kai's 12 malls between Saturday and Thursday this week to be up 15 per cent year on year to 9.2 million people as shoppers head out prior to Lunar New Year, with revenue projected to rise by between 15 and 25 per cent to HK$230 million.
And tourists remained a minority presence in malls, making up just 15 per cent of all shoppers on weekdays, and 20 to 25 per cent during "golden week" national holidays, she said.