Supermalls gain popularity, but retailers not favoring one format
By Jennee Grace U. Rubrico
Big-space shopping centers are becoming popular retail formats given their revenue-generating and customer-convenience appeal.They have, however, yet to significantly affect the market share of smaller-sized operations, and Philippine retailers are finding their own approaches as competition intensifies. Larger-format stores have a gross floor area of over 300,000 square meters. At least three malls fall under this category in the Philippines, all owned by the SM group: SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, 386,224 square meters; SM City North Edsa in Quezon City, 351,824 square meters including The Block; and SM Megamall, 331,679 square meters.
"In the last five to 10 years, shopping centers and malls in developing markets have been growing in size. This is an important attribute because of positioning. The marketplace is one crowded place. You can be big and extend critical mass," said Steven H. L. Goh, executive chairman of Retail Asia Publishing Pte. Ltd., during the recent National Retailers Conference and Expo.
Retail Asia publishes an annual ranking of the top 500 Asia-Pacific retail companies.
Size strengthens the value proposition, which is "a key driving force ... There’s a marketing rationale behind [it]," Mr. Goh said.
In an e-mail response to a questionnaire sent by BusinessWorld, SM Prime Holdings, Inc. President Hans Sy said the firm’s drive to build mega-malls is aimed at providing "a complete shopping and entertainment experience."
SM, he said, first introduced the one-stop concept due to the need to offer the most number of goods/services in a single area -- food, clothing, shoes, accessories, hardware, automobile accessories, appliances, home furnishings, cinemas, and amusement centers.
The "sense of completeness", he said, is a crowd-drawer.
Bigger retail formats, Mr. Goh said, will be the trend among developing markets since retail trade has yet to maximize returns on large-space shopping, particularly from rent and shares of gross sales. He admitted, however, that big spaces may also create a "negative shopping experience" for those who have to take longer to get from stores to stores.
A property services firm has cautioned against the feasibility of large retail spaces in Metro Manila given existing inventory. In a July 2006 report released August 31, Colliers International Philippines, Inc. noted that Metro Manila is saturated with a total of 4.3 million square meters of retail space. This and increasing consumer patronage of bazaars and flea markets will exert pressure on retail rent, it said.
For mall operators, the revenue stream comes from a fixed rent rate based on space occupied and a variable rate or the percentage of a tenant’s gross sales. Lower sales from tenants would have an overall impact on mall revenues. For SM, Mr. Sy said variable rent rates account for about 80% of total rental income.
"Moving forward, we believe that the saturation of retail space in Metro Manila coupled with the general preference for bargain items are expected to exert pressure on rents. Our forecast rent by end-2006 is an expansion of only 5% or an average of P1,207 per square meter per month in Ayala Center and P965 in Ortigas," Colliers said.
It noted that for the second quarter, effective rates at the Ayala Center in Makati City were kept at an average of P1,185/sq. m./month as of end-June, while the average in Ortigas Center, Pasig City was unchanged at P935/sq. m./month.
Retailers, however, have alternatives, among them convenience stores and hypermarkets. Nielsen Media Research defines convenience stores as those that have one to two counters and are open for at least 21 hours. Hypermarkets, meanwhile, have at least 25 counters and sell both wet and dry goods.
Mr. Goh, citing statistics from the 2005 Retail Asia Pacific Top 500, said convenience stores were the highest revenue contributors for the Asia Pacific in 2004, accounting 21% of total revenues worth 5.5 billion.
Bienvenido Tantoco III, president of Rustan Supercenters, Inc. and Philippine representative to the Intercontinental Group of Department Stores, said convenience stores are very accessible. "The people are so time-starved that you want to deliver in formats that save them time."
Nielsen Media Research data show that patronage of convenience stores has gone down, but not significantly. Lea L. Romasanta-Morada, AC Nielsen Philippines associate director for client services said "Convenience stores serve a need. When you run out of things you need in between grocery trips, people go to convenience stores," she told BusinessWorld.
The hypermarket, which groups a supermarket and department store, is also gaining popularity. Retail Asia’s Mr. Goh said this format cornered 18% of total revenues in 2004.
"For hypermarkets, there is a need to provide a big-box store concept where everything is there and people can go there for an hour and get everything they need," Mr. Tantoco said.
One such set-up is Shopwise of Rustan Supercenters, which is the hypermarket arm of the Rustan Group. It has six existing hypermarkets and will open its seventh before yearend. The group plans to open two to four hypermarkets nationwide in the near future.
Mr. Tantoco said industry figures show hypermarkets post a return on investments a year or two from the start of operations. "It varies per country but the global benchmark is one to two years for a hypermarket to generate store level profits and about six hypermarkets to cover the central costs or break-even before interest expenses."
Nielsen data show an increasing patronage of hypermarkets, to 75% as of end-2005 from 66% in 2004. "Hypermarkets remain undeveloped although more consumers are now open to shopping in this outlet type," the research group noted.
Besides the Rustan group, the SM group is also venturing of late into hypermarkets through its "supercenters," one of which opened on August 19 along Circumferential Road-5 within the Fronterra Verde complex in Pasig City.
Mr. Sy said SM is also into smaller retail formats of about 15,000 square meters that host a hypermarket, food courts and other stores such as Ace Hardware, Watson’s and Taste Asia. "This is a mall format that SM will be rolling out more in the coming years to service smaller municipalities and provinces," he said.
The group’s first hypermarket was in Sucat, Parañaque City. Its newly opened The Block annex at North Edsa is another one.
But not all retailers are into hypermarkets. Ayala Land Inc., operator of the Ayala malls in Makati City, Taguig City and Alabang in Muntinlupa City, said it is willing to lease to third-party hypermarket operators and is not looking at opening one by itself.
"We consider hypermarkets as anchors for our developments [but] we are not in the hypermarket business. It is not our line," Ayala Land spokesman Jan Bengzon told BusinessWorld.
Gokongwei-owned Robinsons Retail, meanwhile, used to operate its Big R stores as hypermarkets but has decided to shift. "Robinsons retail is no longer into the hypermart format," said Jody Gadia, general manager for Robinsons Supermarket Corp. (RSC). Company officials declined to elaborate.
Supermarkets, with three to 25 counters, will also not be disappearing given their value-for-money appeal.
"Supermarkets now dominate the market and they will continue to play an important role and will still contribute a big part of retail trade," Mr. Tantoco said.
In fact, supermarkets contributed 19% of total revenues for the retail segment in Asia Pacific for 2004, Retail Asia said. Nielsen data show supermarkets are still the ones beat with 95% of respondents in a 2005 survey patronizing the smaller format.
Mr. Tantoco, however, said this segment may suffer customer loss as shoppers are drawn to other retail formats. "The share [in retail sales] will be smaller," he said.
Nielsen data backs up this observation: 30% spent most of their money in supermarkets in 2005 from 36% in 2004, while 45% went to supermarkets regularly from 70% in 2004. "While supermarkets are visited regularly compared to the other modern trade, the percentage showed a decline across regions," Nielsen said.
The Nielsen study also showed 89% saying patronized sari-sari stores in 2005, up from 65% in 2004, while almost all (99%) said they considered buying from this kind of store from the 96% in 2004. "Sari-sari stores are the main point of purchase for most packaged goods, except ice cream, tea drinks, and diapers," the firm said.
Groceries, or formats with one to two counters with lesser store hours than convenience stores, and bakeries, are also "gaining in importance." Another set-up that remains popular is the wet market, Nielsen said.