It's getting hot in Latin America, and it's not just World Cup fever coming out of Brazil.
The region once again dominated A.T. Kearney's annual Global Retail Development Index, which selects 30 out of 200 developing nations and scores them on criteria including political risk, population, saturation and retail sales. The rankings determine how important it is for retailers to plant their flag there.
The firm's findings highlighted that retailers are continuing their push into developing markets, and have started to learn that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to expansion. Many retailers initially looked abroad as a result of slowed growth in the U.S., seeing it as an opportunity to boost sales.
"They have become more strategic in their expansion and in avoiding the operational pitfalls of entries into developing markets," the study said. "The leaders are also identifying the unique challenges of each market, from India's foreign direct investment policies to Brazil's high duties to Turkey's high credit card regulations."
The rankings not only gauge today's most successful markets, but examine which will be the strongest performers down the road. Three Latin American countries ranked in the study's top five, one of which dethroned last year's top-ranked Brazil.
New to the top 10 this year were Kazakhstan and Malaysia, whose appeal to premium luxury shoppers outweighed their small populations.
—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson
Posted 18 June 2014
Country rankings from A.T. Kearney's 2014 Global Retail Development Index. Population and GDP per capita data are from the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook.
Ranking last year: 11
Population: 17,948,816 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $14,100 (2013 est.)
Located in Central Asia, Kazakhstan's small population and large income divide have resulted in a strong luxury market, with less potential for retailers courting lower-income shoppers, A.T. Kearney said.
Several luxury brands have entered the country in recent years, including Christian Dior and Giorgio Armani.
But because the country's GDP growth is slowing and its currency, the Kazakhstani tenge, has recently been devalued, the country is still a challenging place for international retailers to enter.
(Pictured here: Shoppers eat in the food court of a mall in Karaganda.)
Ranking last year: 13
Population: 30,073,353 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $17,500 (2013 est.)
Malaysia's young population and high income per capita came together to bump the Asian country into A.T. Kearney's top 10 this year, its highest ranking since 2007.
Within the country, premium categories such as fashion, sporting goods and electronics are growing faster than basic food and beverages, thanks to residents' higher disposable incomes. And because the government views retail as an important growth engine for the economy, "Malaysia continues to be a magnet for international players," the report said.
High-end French retailer Galeries Lafayette and Japan-based Takashimaya are both opening department stores in the country this year.
(Pictured here: A visitor walks through the "100 Doraemon Secret Gadgets Expo" at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.)
Ranking last year: 9
GDP per capita: $42,100 (2013 est.)
The country, with an economy that's closely tied to oil output, has become a popular destination for luxury retailers. Chopard last year opened its largest boutique in Kuwait City, and Louis Vuitton is building a two-story location inside The Avenues mall, which also houses names such as Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana.
(Pictured here: Women walk through a mall in Kuwait City.)
Ranking last year: 8
Population: 4,935,880 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $6,100 (2013 est.)
A.T. Kearney refers to Georgia as a "small gem," saying the country's growing GDP and stabilizing consumer spending helped bump the underpenetrated market into seventh place.
Since modern apparel retailers first entered the country in 2011, about 40 brands have planted their flags. They include Zara, Marks & Spener, Gap, Aldo and Topshop.
Still, most retailers operating inside the country consider traditional bazaars to be their biggest competitor, A.T. Kearney said.
(Pictured here: The main hall in Tbilisi Mall.)
Ranking last year: 10
Population: 3,060,631 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $6,300 (2013 est.)
Although Armenia has a small population and strong monopolies in some sectors, its quickly growing GDP and low saturation make the country attractive for retailers. The government is also making efforts to attract foreign companies; for example, by doing away with company registration fees.
Zara plans to open a second store in the country this year, while Laura Ashley plans to add an additional two stores to its footprint.
(Pictured here: French President Francois Hollande and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan visit a mobile phone store in one of the country's malls.)
Ranking last year: 1
Population: 202,656,788 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $12,100 (2013 est.)
Soccer-crazed World Cup fans aren't the only people eyeing Brazil with interest. After two years in the top slot, the Latin American country dropped two spots to fifth place because of inflation and an increase in household debt. But it remained in the top 10, in part, because of the country's low unemployment.
Apple, Forever 21, Gap and Zara all have a presence in the country, which is expected to see a retail boost from its role as the World Cup host city. But Wal-Mart's decision to close 25 stores in the country, tied to personnel costs, underscore the country's lingering challenges.
(Pictured here: Shoppers await the opening of the first Apple store in Latin America, in Rio de Janeiro's Village Mall.)
Ranking last year: 5
GDP per capita: $29,900 (2013 est.)
Known for its out-of-the-box concepts, one new project coming to Dubai is Falconcity of Wonders, a multipurpose complex that duplicates the Seven Wonders of the World, and includes residences and a mall shaped like a falcon. In February, the country opened an outdoor cinema/beachfront mall hybrid called The Beach.
(Pictured here: A man walks through Dubai's Mall of the Emirates.)
Ranking last year: 3
Population: 3,332,972 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $16,600 (2013 est.)
A popular tourist spot, retailers have largely made investments into new stores and shopping centers through mergers and acquisitions. These include the local grocery chain Ta-Ta, which purchased supermarket chain Multi Ahorra for about $160 million last year. International players are also drawn to the market, which has become a "solid retail oasis," thanks to political and economic stability, A.T. Kearney said.
(Pictured here: Brazilian shoppers visit a duty-free store on the Uruguay-Brazil border.)
Ranking last year: 4
Population: 1,355,692,576 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $9,800 (2013 est.)
Retail sales in the most populous country grew by 13 percent last year, and mall construction grew by a whopping 20 percent. The country's e-commerce is also making strides, now accounting for 8 percent of its retail sales. However, a stricter ant-corruption policy has taken its toll on luxury sales, which fell 2 percent last year.
Increasing disposable incomes and a looser birth-control policy are expected to continue driving the country's growth, despite surging labor costs and higher rents.
(Pictured here: Shoppers wait outside the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store opening in Shanghai.)
Ranking last year: 2
Population: 17,363,894 (July 2014 est.)
GDP per capita: $19,100 (2013 est.)
After steadily rising in the study's ranks, Chile's years of economic and political stability shot the Latin American country into the No. 1 spot. Its GDP, which grew 4.4 percent last year, is expected to continue on that track through 2016, while business-friendly regulations and investments into the country's physical infrastructure "indicate that retail growth will continue into the future," the report said.
In addition to major investments in some of the country's new and existing shopping centers, Chile's e-commerce platform is one of the more developed markets in the world. The average household spends $158 online each year.
(Pictured here: Two men stand outside an Emporio Armani store in Santiago.)