Super regional centres rule the retailing roost

March of luxury brands seems unstoppable amid the changing face of outlets as city moves to cater to the influx of mainland shoppers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 6:22am

So-called super regional centres are the most prominent mall formats, usually located in prime commercial or tourist areas and with a floor area of more than 700,000 square feet and accommodation for at least 200 retailers, with three or more anchors.

In this type of mall, the march of apparel retailers, particularly luxury fashion outlets, seems unstoppable, and their tenant mix continues to emphasise this trade at the expense of other anchors/tenants.

In the circumstances we believe the jewellery and watches sector has stabilised for the time being at around 5 per cent of floor area.

Typically, regional centres are 600,000 to 1 million sq ft and located in well-established suburbs, offering a mix of anchors and mini-anchors. Regional centres in the New Territories are shifting their trade mix to meet mainland demand and this will inevitably mean more apparel. With greater numbers of same-day visitors from across the border (compared with overnight visitors), provision of convenience retail may also increase over time, particularly cosmetics and pharmaceuticals in centres within easy reach of the border.

Located in larger residential suburbs and still with a strong convenience bias, district centres cater to the mass- to mid-market.

At a district level, the trade mix is expected to remain relatively stable over the short term, although larger, better-located centres may try to reposition themselves as sub-regional malls where market opportunity allows.

Lacking the allure of the much larger regional and super-regional centres and without the convenience of neighbourhood malls, this segment may be most vulnerable to e-tailing over time. The internet is a particularly effective means of undertaking the type of comparison shopping that occurs at a district centre and many businesses are already well represented on the web.

The outlook for neighbourhood centres is positive as major landlords, such as The Link, continue to upgrade the sector; although this is sometimes at the expense of variety as independents give way to chains. Government housing bodies also continue to improve the design and layout of new centres, and coupled with rising incomes, there is plenty of potential for convenience and mass-market retailers.

Transit retail is a rapidly emerging sector of the retail hierarchy, in part reflecting Hong Kong's insatiable demand for big infrastructure. At border crossings, airports, railway stations and even ferry piers, retailers are finding new ways to command the attention of Asia's restless consumers.

This trend has not been lost on the likes of the Airport Authority and the MTRC, which have been quick to recognise the opportunity to increase revenue and enhance transit environments. The sector has obviously seen phenomenal rental growth since the individual traveller scheme was introduced in 2003, pausing only briefly in 2008 and 2009 during the global financial crisis.

Since then, super regional centres have recorded particularly strong rises in base rents as they have cemented their position of dominance in the hierarchy, supported by mainland shoppers.

We also note that district centres have seen dramatic rent rises over the past six months as a number of malls have undertaken extensive upgrades.

Only regional centres seem to have performed less well, with base rental growth moderating since 2011. We reason that this segment may have compromised base rental growth in order to secure new international brands.

We believe, however, that sales turnover in this segment has gone a long way to improving rental returns and mitigating the lower base rents.

Geographically, rents in the New Territories since the global financial crisis have risen more slowly than Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. We believe this is changing, however, as overheads challenge affordability in traditional locations and retailers chase new opportunities closer to the border.

A rising numbers of same-day visitors should support this trend over the next year or two and centre repositioning is already much in evidence.

Simon Smith is the head of Research and Consultancy, Savills.