Malaysians love to shop. Or rather, they love to go to air-conditioned shopping areas to escape the sweltering heat. And this has not escaped the attention of retailers, especially those operating large shopping centres and hypermarkets. Hypermarkets have been opening at a frenetic pace because of changing lifestyles. Previously, they were seen as being more expensive than wet markets, especially for perishable items such as vegetables, fish and meat. But aggressive pricing has changed all that. More and more Malaysians are now enjoying the low prices and the cool setting. At the last count, Malaysia had 38 hypermarkets, many foreign-owned, and most are concentrated in areas like Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Penang and Johor Bahru. In the Kuala Lumpur-Petaling Jaya conurbation, there are 18 hypermarkets for a population of about four million. The hypermarket phenomenon in Malaysia started some 10 years ago with Dutch group Makro, which now has eight stores. It was followed by Carrefour, of France, which operates six outlets across the country. Hong Kong's Dairy Farm jumped into the fray two years ago and now has eight stores after it took over a local chain, Giant. But it is Tesco, the British chain, which has caught the imagination of many with its aggressive expansion and razor-sharp pricing. It opened four stores within a year. The mushrooming has led the government to put to a five-year freeze on their development in the four urban centres of Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Penang and Johor Bahru, starting on January 1. Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the numbers had exceeded demand and if left unchecked, they would jeopardise the livelihood of small-scale traders. His ministry has also thrown in more conditions for hypermarket start-ups. Applications must be made two years prior to the start of the project. But most intriguing is a ruling that hypermarkets must be built far from residential areas, when it was their location in the suburbs and away from the central business districts that led to their popularity in the first place. In view of the impending freeze and the new set of conditions, watch out for intense lobbying or a flurry of applications between now and December 31.