Given Mongolia’s small population, almost half of whom are still nomads, the country does not seem at first glance like the ideal spot for high-end shopping. However some of the world’s most exclusive retailers have opened up in Ulaanbaatar. Central Tower, a Grade A office tower across from the city’s geographic, political and social focal point, Sukhbaatar Square, has emerged as a very visible centre for luxury shopping.

HISTORY: That makes the city and the country part of a trend ongoing since the global financial crisis hit hard in 2008 – luxury-retail growth migrating from the traditional global powerhouse economies to its emerging ones. While names like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Armani and Zegna still rely on their European, North American or Japanese outlets for sales, they are also increasingly looking to emerging markets such as those in Southeast Asia and China. Mongolia counts too, despite its small population. Only a few thousand loyal customers are needed to support a luxury boutique, and Ulaanbaatar’s elite have the heft the retailers are looking for.

But the local appetite for top-notch goods is nothing new, and the presence of luxury names in Mongolia actually stretches back before the country’s abandonment of communism and adoption of capitalism in 1991. In the communist era, a shop designated only for use by elite Communist Party members and their families stocked products such as Christian Dior fragrances, according to local media reports. The current era of high-priced shopping picked up momentum in 2009, once the post-crisis trend gave retailers time to change their strategies and open their emerging-country outlets.

POTENTIAL & PROSPECTS: In the lead-up to that change, top retailers had been re-evaluating where growth potential could be found, according to a report on Mongolian retailing in the Hong Kong magazine Prestige. “Before Louis Vuitton came into the market, they did a study based on credit-card charges,’’ a local consultant told Prestige in an interview. “That showed that, per capita, Mongolians charged the most luxury goods overseas on their cards of any people studied.”

CENTRAL TOWER: In Central Tower today, Louis Vuitton, Zegna, Huge Boss, Mont Blanc, Ulysse Nardin and others have filled retail spaces, bringing with them the flair they are known for. Louis Vuitton’s 430-sq-metre shop offers a VIP room with champagne, and a purpose-designed ceremonial saddle on display as a nod to Mongolia’s tight relationship with horses and riding. Burberry, also present in Central Tower, is planning a second shop in a planned Shangri-La Hotel under construction. The two levels of retail space also includes bars, restaurants and cafes, completing the mixed-use offering shoppers are familiar with in other countries. There are also a number of local shops such as Bodi Electronics, which sells Apple products and has designed its space to look like an Apple Store. Blue Sky Cashmere offers the best of local offerings – the country’s cashmere is considered a luxury product itself, and is increasingly marketed worldwide as such. Other high-end domestic goods such as fairtrade felt handicrafts are on offer in several shops to the west of Sukhbaatar Square, in hotel concourses, and clustered on and around Peace Avenue, the main thoroughfare.

The city’s largest mall is the luxurious Ulaanbaatar Department Store, a 30,000-sq-metre space opened in 2010. Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, and Giorgio Armani are located there. Central Tower is managed by the same Shangri-La branded team overseeing the hotel being built a few blocks to the south. Once complete, the 22-story hotel will be part of a retail space complex and could end up as another shopping focal point. Naran Plaza, another elite mall featuring Swatch and Swarovski, has also joined the market.

Top-end luxury retailers exist outside these main clusters as well. Locations such as Metromall and others host top-end merchandise as well as globally recognised brands like Apple and Ecco. Given Mongolia’s nomadic heritage, a number of adventure outfitters have sprung up, importing gear brands such as Columbia and North Face. Car dealers offering brands such as BMWs and other luxury autos round out the offerings on hand.