Beijing retail’s 3 missing links

July 3, 2015 / By

Like elsewhere in China, shopping centres in Beijing are being affected by the 3 Os: online, overseas, and outlets. Further weighing on these major sources of competition in the capital are three missing links: an absent high street culture, limited walking-friendly environments, and a lack of convenient road travel. Getting to and from a retail project in the city can be hard enough, but even mall-hopping within a cluster has its own challenges. As Alfred Taubman of Taubman Centers, an early proponent of the shopping mall, put it: “Threshold resistance is the physical and psychological barrier that stands between a shopper and the inside of a store.”

Thus, while immensely easier said than done, Beijing would do well to:

1 – Establish a proper high street

  • Unlike nearby competitors in Asia, high street shopping is conspicuously absent in Beijing. Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore are all known for vibrant high street shopping that serves to surprise, delight, and entice the consumer. Hong Kong purposefully exploits the senses in Central and Causeway Bay, iconic shopping areas which operate as one big, happy high street.
  • The closest thing Beijing has to a high street is Wangfujing’s pedestrian street. However, the area largely serves as a draw for domestic tourists. And although Xidan shopping district has pedestrian appeal, its project mix exudes a randomness that fails to give off a cohesive high street feel.

2 – Become a more walkable city

  • Apart from Wangfujing and Xidan, shopping around Beijing on foot is challenging. The distances between projects inhibit consumption as comparison shopping and shopping sprees are logistically difficult.
  • Even in more compact areas, walking is not the preferred option due to wide road-crossings, traffic dangers, and poor air quality. Filling the gaps between key projects with quality street-side retail would allow high streets to emerge, offering people more walkable areas for shopping.
  • While dispersed retail development is akin to much of the North American development style, Beijing has far higher population density, forming a rare disconnect between densely populated areas and un-walkability.
  • More cleverly located pedestrian bridges and underground passages would better integrate retail precincts in Beijing and provide shelter from the elements.

3 – Improve traffic flow

  • People now prefer to drive to where they can shop, but the severely congested city centre is persuading consumers to shop closer to home, creating a boon for the new generation of quality suburban malls that can be reached relatively easily and painlessly for most needs; trips downtown are increasingly being reserved for special occasions.
  • If traffic conditions worsen, motivation to go out and shop will further drop as driver-frustration grows. Thus, any measure to improve traffic would help promote consumption in physical retail.

Tying together these missing links will support the growth and sophistication of Beijing’s retail market, helping the city join the ranks of world-famous shopping destinations in Asia like Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong, all while unlocking the full potential of local consumers’ rising spending power.


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