Tech Edge

Who can best survive the 'clicks versus bricks' era?

ION Orchard shopping centre on Orchard Road
Kimberley Coole | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images

The e-commerce boom is a worrying headwind for retailers and shopping mall operators the world over, but BNP Paribas says some shopping hubs are weathering the risks better than others.

"Our view is that the threat of e-commerce is inevitable but malls that embrace this trend will remain highly relevant," said Wee Liat Lee, head of property research at BNP Paribas.

"Multi-channeling is retailer-led, and we expect the trend to move from the U.K./EU to Asia," added Wee, referring to marketing strategies that offer consumers a choice of how to buy products.

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It's no secret that e-commerce is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide. Online sales on Cyber Monday—an annual U.S. online shopping event held the Monday after Thanksgiving—hit a record $1.5 billion in 2013. Meanwhile, China's equivalent—Singles' Day, which occurs every November 11—racked up $5.7 billion.

Retailers on the web
Retailers on the web

According to U.K. e-tail industry body IMRG and advisory firm Capgemini, total online sales in the U.K. alone are set to rise 17 percent this year to £107 billion ($180 billion) after rising 16 percent to £91 billion last year.

However, despite an increase in online shopping, analysts at BNP Paribas argue that many shopping-focused cities around the world will prove resilient.

Europe and the U.K., for example, are key examples, of how "clicks & bricks"—can easily co-exist, BNP Paribas argues.

"Consumer decisions involve a combination of online and physical channels for research and financial purchase," said BNP.

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According to BNP analysts, in some instances in the region, physical stores are superior to online channels in terms of brand building, quality of service and unique experience. Some pure online retailers have even expanded to physical stores. Meanwhile, the mall operators that have continued to thrive are the ones that have adopted digital strategies.

In Asia, where there is a more ingrained culture of eating out given the smaller living spaces by contrast, the top malls in China/Asia have already been configured for the arrival of the multi-channel retailing era, said BNP. A high proportion of food and beverage outlets, large mall sizes, flagship stores and thematic/event driven malls, are also encouraging factors.

However smaller and poor-quality shopping malls, such as those found in lower-tier cities in China, are likely to be negatively impacted as retailers scale down their physical presence, the report found "Malls in Hong and Singapore are more resilient given tourist spending," BNP added.

BNP Paribas spoke to individual mall operators in Asia and found that Hong Kong's HysanDevelopment Company and Hang Lung, China's Longfor and Singapore's CapitaLand were the best prepared for the multi-channel retailing era, with teams and plans to roll out digital strategies.

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It named Hong Kong's Wharf Holdings—which owns the Harbour City and Times Square shopping centers in Hong Kong—along with Hysan Development Company—which owns Hysan Place a shopping mall and office building in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, as operators immune to the rise of e-commerce because of Hong Kong's popularity as a tourist hub.

Other risks impacting shopping malls include supply risks, talent recruitment and retention, and ability to acquire land at a reasonable cost, the research note said.