Retail properties

Singapore’s CapitaLand goes digital to boost traffic at its Chinese shopping malls

A new app that will allow shoppers to pre-book a parking space, among other things, is the firm’s latest weapon in the fight for the consumer dollar

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 11:04pm

Singapore property firm CapitaLand is banking on an app that allows visitors to book parking spaces at its Chinese shopping centres, find the stores they want and earn rewards as it looks to stay ahead of tough competition for the consumer dollar.

One of the earliest international developers to land in China in the 1990s, CapitaLand’s assets in the country were valued at S$22.1 billion (US$16.4 billion) as of September, accounting for 39 per cent of its global total. It had 69 shopping centres in China and 18,000 service apartments.

Lucas Loh Jen Yuh, chief executive of CapitaLand China, told the South China Morning Post in an interview that the company is looking to leverage its China business model elsewhere in the world.

“We are planning ahead and making arrangements for future growth,” he said. “The old days when mega shopping malls could easily attract Chinese people are history. It is a new era when part of the business strategies used in China can be exported to other markets.”

Overseas developers are facing fiercer competition on the mainland from local rivals, which have been growing faster. Still, the overall occupancy rate of CapitaLand’s China shopping centres stood at 95.5 per cent, with year-on-year tenant sales growth of 6.8 per cent.

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For the first nine months of this year, CapitaLand China’s net property income from the commercial segment rose 7.9 per cent from a year ago to 293.7 billion yuan (US$44.4 billion).

“Our efforts focus on removing all barriers that prevent shoppers from visiting the malls,” Loh said. CapitaLand planned to collect big data sets about people’s purchases, eating choices and window shopping so as to accurately address their needs with individualised services, he said.

The surging popularity of online shopping in China has posed challenges for traditional retailers, with e-commerce firms like Alibaba – the owner of the South China Morning Post – increasingly co-opting retailers into retail models that blur the lines between online and offline shopping. But Loh said that shopping centres could adapt and would retain their attraction.

“Physical commercial properties will not lose their lustre in China due to people’s living habits,” Loh said. “In densely populated cities in China, shopping malls are the places where people gather to enjoy eating, playing and communicating with others.”

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Nevertheless, he said that CapitaLand and its global counterparts would have to “keep up with the times” in developing businesses in China.

As an example, he noted that at a CapitaLand mall in the eastern city of Suzhou, customers could take part in activities such as horse riding. The company has also increased the amount of space for restaurants to 40 per cent at its new centres. Two decades ago the figure was 20 per cent.