The evolution of malls after the pandemic? Signs emerge in China

Electric car dealerships springing up in China’s malls are just one type of retailer opening physical stores

February 01, 2021

While malls around the world are struggling in the face of lockdowns and caution among shoppers, China’s malls are busy signing on new types of tenants, providing a sign of how brick-and-mortar retailing could develop elsewhere.

For instance, electric car makers such as Tesla, Geely’s Polestar, and Nio have sprung for spaces in Shanghai and Beijing shopping centers, a bid to connect directly to shoppers instead of relying on the traditional locations of car dealerships.

There were over 40 electric vehicle showrooms in Beijing malls late last year, up from only one Telsa store in 2013, as data from JLL shows. In Shanghai, there are 30 such showrooms.

“Electric vehicles had already seen a rise in popularity prior to the pandemic. The government further gave them a boost last year when it introduced stimulus policies, such as subsidies and tax breaks, if you switch to electric vehicles,” says Jemmy Fei, Senior Director of Retail, JLL China. “This led to growing sales, with electric vehicle brands rapidly growing to capture the market.”

Geely’s Polestar announced in June last year that it plans to open another 20 mall showrooms in 17 cities across China. Meanwhile, Nio last September opened a stunning two-storey showroom called Nio House in Raffles City mall in Chongqing. The 1,490 square-meter space boasts a library, café, and view of the surrounding river and the city.

“Because they are located in malls, some brands have also gone to the effort of making these showrooms a place to linger for customers through facilities such as cafes, exhibition space and even kids corners,” says Fei.


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Lifestyle rules

Lifestyle concept stores are similarly expanding in malls. These stores – which include homewares, beauty and pet-related shops – have proliferated with the pandemic as more consumers turn their attention to these feel good items.

“These items have caught the fancy of many urbanites in China who are looking to spend on themselves and their homes to feel better,” says Fei. “It helps that many of these items are not particularly expensive. Going to these stores are also very experiential in nature as these stores are very attractive with areas for selfie-taking, for instance.”

Popular Chinese multi-label lifestyle chain KKV opened a new outlet of nearly 2,000 square meters in Shanghai Joy City in November, and continues to see snaking queues outside its doors in the new year.

Sister brand The Colorist, which was established in October 2019 and sells cosmetics from both local and imported brands, has reportedly opened nearly 100 stories within two months after the pandemic was contained in China, according to investor reports.

Two other lifestyle categories – books and pets – have also increased their footprints. Famed Japanese bookstore Tsutaya Books opened its first Chinese store in Hangzhou retailing books, movie and other design merchandise in October within its 3,000sqm space at OōEli complex, a much buzzed-about commercial development designed by Renzo Piano.

It has since attracted an average of 7,000 customers on weekdays and 10,000 on weekends. And Tsutaya Books has plans to open 1,100 stores in China in the next few years.

China’s growing pet boom – the Chinese pet care market is expected to reach US$73 billion in 2023 – is spurring pet-related store openings from a piglet petting mini zoo in Shanghai’s malls to a sprawling 4,800 grooming salon, complete with a paddling pool and playground for pooches in Hangzhou.

“These are the industries enjoying a post-pandemic boom,” Fei says. “And they’ve been taking up greater amount of spaces in malls and other commercial buildings. Consumers are actively seeking these stores to fulfill their shopping and social needs.”

Contact Jemmy Fei

Director of Retail, JLL China

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