Business / Industries

Convenience stores to lead retail push

By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-22 07:51

Improvement in business environment helps companies post robust growth rates, consider expansion, reports Wang Zhuoqiong.

Convenience and online stores were the fastest-growing sectors in China's retail market last year, while hypermarkets and department stores lagged far behind, according to a report.

With smaller size and closer proximity to younger consumers, convenience stores clocked a 25 percent year-on-year growth in terms of sales. Online retail stores, on the other hand, grew by 48.7 percent, said the China Chain Store & Franchise Association.

The number of convenience stores went up by 21.96 percent, while the number is 2.7 percent for department stores and 6.5 percent for hypermarkets.

Meiyijia convenience store, based in Dongguan, Guangdong province, topped the list of franchise chains with 6,390 outlets, followed by Shizu, Zhishang, based in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, with 1,693. The Shanghai-based Family Mart, on the other hand, had 1,281 stores.

The growth comes mostly from the addition of the new stores, and a general improvement in the overall business environment which has made it conducive for convenience stores to expand, said Wang Hongtao, secretary-general of the convenience store division of the association.

Online retail has only had a minor impact on convenience stores compared to its significant influence on traditional outlets such as hypermarkets and department stores, he said, for reasons that consumers won't want to wait for merchandise that is often sold at convenience stores.

"If people want to drink Coke, they want to drink it now, not the next day delivered from the online retailer," said Wang.

The majority of consumers who come to convenience stores are young adults who are less sensitive to price, said Wang. The relatively smaller investment on an individual convenience store also encourages their expansion, he said.

Since entering China in 1996, Japanese convenience store operator Lawson China Holdings Co has formed a joint venture with Bailian Group, a local retailer in Shanghai, which has turned out to be a rather slow development. Lawson Inc is the second-largest convenience store chain in Japan behind 7-Eleven

Motonobu Miyake, senior vice-president of Lawson, said: "Sometimes we filed an application to open new stores, we found that our competitors already knew about the plan."

To save costs, the venture chose locations where rents are relatively lower and store space is small, which means many of their locations are not ideal. In 2005, when the number of stores had reached 300, Lawson decided to stop opening new stores. It also closed down some of the existing stores that were not profitable due to bad location and small operational space.

In 2011, Lawson China Holdings regained its controlling stake in the joint venture. After 2013, Lawson China Holdings has once again taken the expansion route due to the growing demand for convenience stores.

"However, the sense of insecurity always exists," said Miyake. "None of our convenience store operators in China would feel sure of their growth without constantly improvisation."

Despite the recent frenzy for hypermarkets and other retail formats to be diversified by joining the convenience store business, it is still a tough task for convenience stores to improve their store quality, which starts from key management and operations, said industry sources.

There is a huge gap in the daily sales of single convenience stores, with the highest being about 15,000 yuan ($2,420) and the lowest just 755 yuan. In the case of hypermarkets, the gap is much smaller, according to Pei Liang, secretary-general of the China Chain Store & Franchise Association.

The 2014 gross profit of convenience stores on average was 24.27 percent, much higher than hypermarkets and supermarkets, with the highest at 36.5 percent and lowest at 16.5 percent.

A person could visit a convenience store three times a day, sometime even without knowing very sure what he is looking for, said Miyake.

But the high frequency requires more updates on the merchandise portfolio. "If the customer does not find the things he wants during his visits, or sees the same products always, it is quite likely that he would not come again," said Miyake.

Lawson often removes unpopular items from the shelves and stops their production at the factory. On the other hand, it increases the output of its top-selling items, a strategy that helps manage costs, he said.

Miyake, who is also president of Lawson China Holdings, said the company plans to open 10,000 stores by 2025. About 50 percent of the new stores will be subsidiaries and the balance partially licensed ones.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page

Hot Topics

Editor's Picks