Colombia: Room for retail growth
Benefitting from a strong increase in consumer credit, Colombia’s retail sector is expanding rapidly, with several new malls being constructed around the country. While the IMF charges that reduced growth targets for this year mean consumer credit should be reined in, it seems unlikely that policies to restrain growth will be implemented in the near future, given the retail sector’s high potential for expansion.
According to the Colombia Shopping Mall Association (Acecolombia), in 2011 mall sales increased 22.9%. This growth has set off a wave of shopping mall development throughout the country, with 41 new shopping centres currently being built, in addition to 14 renovation projects.
Carlos Betancourt, the executive director of Acecolombia, told OBG that today’s growth is different from that of the past, as mall owners are working to appeal to a wider range of customers. “Shopping centres in Colombia were originally constructed to cater to the rich or the highest income bracket. At the moment, Colombia is experiencing exponential growth in retail for all economic strata. Shopping centres are no longer viewed as a retail option exclusively for the rich.”
According to a recent Acecolombia survey, some 12% of middle-class Colombians shop for clothing in malls, an indication of greater socio-economic diversity among mall users. In an attempt to reach out to this more diverse customer base, malls are being constructed in middle-class neighbourhoods of major cities, as well as in some of the country’s smaller urban centres.
Despite recent diversification efforts and expansion, mall density is still relatively low across the entire country. Antioquia has the most mall retail space per 100 inhabitants, 17.39 sq metres, while the Caribbean region is the least dense, with a figure of 9.39 sq metres.
Not only are mall owners diversifying in terms of location, but also in the type of malls they construct. With greater competition in the market, mall owners are seeking to diversify by installing different brands in their shopping centres, constructing large open spaces that can be used to host events, and developing larger shopping malls in newly developed areas as opposed to smaller structures in downtown urban centres. Recent developments around the country are typically large shopping malls that exceed 40,000 sq metres of space. Mixed-use shopping centres are also growing in popularity. The Titan shopping mall in Bogotá, which will include both a hotel and conference centre, is one such example.
In addition to structural changes, mall ownership arrangements are also evolving. Traditionally, malls are owned by large consortiums of investors that can include hundreds of individuals, which is the case for 94% of the country’s malls. However, of the 41 new shopping malls currently under development, around half will operate under a single owner or a small group of owners.
One reason for the changing ownership structure could be the growing presence of international shopping mall owners and operators. Ripley, the Chilean department store, has invested US$272m in Colombia’s retail market and plans on opening up 10 new stores in the country by 2013. Chile-based Falabella, a department store chain, is even more ambitious, with plans to invest US$3.34bn in the construction of 204 stores and 16 shopping malls. Gap, a US-based clothing retailer, also plans on opening Gap and Banana Republic stores in Bogotá. These stores are scheduled for completion later this year.
However, María Lucía Cossio, the general manager of El Tesoro Mall in Medellin, claims the retail sector’s expansion is “mostly led by an increase in debt and credit”. In May 2012, consumer credit was up 43% year-on-year over the previous year. This rapid increase in credit, coupled with lower overall economic growth levels, has led to some concern as to whether current lending patterns are sustainable. However, at the time of writing, no policies had been put in place to limit future consumer lending.
With no additional constraints imposed on consumption for the moment and a relatively low mall density through the entire country, opportunities for continued expansion of the retail sector are plentiful and growth is likely to continue in the near-to-medium term.