India overtakes China as the most promising market for retail expansion

Key Points
  • China fell out of the No. 1 spot in a ranking of the most promising markets for retail expansion.
  • China's retail market is maturing and GDP growth has lagged, but the country's size and e-commerce opportunity remain strong, A.T. Kearney said.
  • India took the top spot, helped by its expanding economy, booming consumption rates, urbanizing population and growing middle class.
Customers look at a dress at a Big Bazaar hypermarket, operated by Future Retail Ltd., in Mumbai, India, April 16, 2017.
Dhiraj Singh | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As retailers struggle in the U.S., a new report suggests India could be the next bright spot for the industry.

A.T. Kearney's annual look at emerging retail markets puts the country at the top of the list, ahead of China, which has been a longtime index leader. The report gauges the best opportunities for retail investments globally and ranks the top 30 developing countries based on the firm's findings for market attractiveness. Population, GDP per capita, national retail sales and country risk are a few factors taken into consideration.

"The 2017 [global retail development index] is all about the geopolitical scene and how it affects business," said Hana Ben-Shabat, a co-author of A.T. Kearney study. "Retailers are thinking twice about expansion into places where there is uncertainty about future government actions or high political risk."

Further, "mobile shopping is challenging the ways retailers think about global expansion, as well as about their role in the value chain," co-author Mike Moriarty added. "We are expecting more retailers to use mobile as part of their future expansion plans."

In this year's "Age of Focus" report, Asia houses five of the top 10 countries, including India and now second-place China.

India's expanding economy, coupled with booming consumption rates, urbanizing population and growing middle class, are what moved the country to the top spot, A.T. Kearney explained.

Retailers such as Armani Exchange, Kate Spade, Cole Haan and Muji all entered the Indian market in 2016.

Meanwhile, China fell on 2017's list as its market is maturing and GDP growth has lagged, but the country's size and e-commerce opportunity remain strong, the consulting firm went on.

Top 5 countries for global retail development 

Source: A.T. Kearney

Vietnam was number six on the list, moving ahead five spots from last year as the country boasts more liberal investment laws. Also in Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia placed third and eighth place, respectively, the report said.

Malaysia's market will grow 23 percent annually through 2021, driven by its investments in electronics and media, A.T. Kearney has forecast.

Asia is the "driving force" behind global retail expansion this year, the retail report's authors wrote. There have been notable expansions there in food and beverage, personal care products, apparel, fashion and luxury, they said.

"One might wonder why some other countries aren't on [this year's] index," Ben-Shabat told CNBC in an interview.

The reason is simply high political risk.

"For an American retailer making the decision to go into a country, you want to know you're operating safely," she went on. "At least in the beginning, you're sending your own people, employing local people. ... Political stability of the country is key."

Other areas worth noting mentioned in this year's report: North Africa is making gains, and South America's Andes markets are impressing investors, but Russia is facing more sluggish growth.

"Russia is still recovering from a recession, but there are some positive signs, including a luxury market boosted by Chinese tourists," Ben-Shabat wrote. The country checked in at number 22 on this year's list, unchanged from 2016.

In addition to ranking the countries that pose the best opportunities for retail investing, A.T. Kearney has predicted what will be a driver in sales over the next decade: mobile shopping. And especially in these emerging markets.

Annual spending and investments on mobile shopping in a survey of 10 large emerging markets are estimated to be $275 billion, the consulting firm found. In fact, Ben-Shabat and her co-author believe emerging markets are ahead of developed markets in terms of mobile shopping growth rates.

Mobile shopping revenue growth

Source: A.T. Kearney

Snapdeal in India, Flipkart, Alipay and WeChat are examples of companies capitalizing on mobile trends.

See the full "Age of Focus" report by A.T. Kearney.