Large scale expansion is still on the agenda for international retailers next year, in spite of the challenging consumer environment and an increasing share of shopping being done online, according to new research from CBRE.

Nearly three quarters of international retailers (71%) are planning to open more than five stores in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region by the end of 2012, with 20% of retailers looking to open 40 stores or more in 2012 compared to 18% in 2011.

CBRE’s annual research report - How Active are Retailers in EMEA? - reveals that retailers are targeting a wide range of countries in both mature and emerging markets in 2012, but are largely focused on opening stores in countries where they already have a presence – a similar strategy to that adopted in 2011. For the first time, Italy leads the way as the most targeted country for retailer expansion moving up from eighth place in last year’s rankings. Italy is followed by Germany, Russia, Spain and France, to make up the top five 2012 retailer hotspots, with more than 30% of retailers targeting each country.

In recent years, retailers have focused on Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Spain, but many are now searching for new opportunities. Although the prospect for consumer spending growth in Italy is modest, there is a clear opportunity for retailers to expand into a market that is under-represented in terms of international brands and where a considerable amount of new retail development is taking place. Germany’s relatively strong economy continues to attract new retailers, while Russia has moved up from sixth position to third on the back of a strong economy and the prospect of further growth in consumer spending.

Although retailers have been targeting a wide variety of markets they are still seeking to minimise risk. More than half of retailers (52%) are aiming to open stores in new cities, but in markets in which they already have a presence - a similar proportion to last year. The number of retailers planning to open additional stores in existing cities is also up from 9% last year to 17% this year, as retailers focus on the markets they know best. In spite of this caution, almost a third of retailers (30%) intend to enter new markets in 2012 - a similar proportion to last year’s survey.

Value & Denim is the most active sector, with retailers aiming to open an average of 36 stores in 2012 (up from 30.3 last year). Faced with falling disposable incomes, many consumers are choosing to trade down and value retailers are taking advantage of this situation to grow market share. Despite the turbulent economic times, the Luxury & Business Fashion sector is also doing well and the sector is planning to open an average of 15.1 stores in 2012, representing a slight increase over their plans for 2011. Retailers such as LVMF (which includes the Louis Vuitton brand) and Burberry recently announced strong sales growth and the sector as a whole is increasingly targeting major cities in emerging markets. In contrast, Consumer Electronics retailers were the least expansive, and are planning to open half the number of stores compared to last year. This is no surprise as consumers cut back purchases on large ticket items, and when they do buy electrical goods, increasingly it is online.

Online shopping remains high on the agenda for retailers. While acknowledging that the multi-channel approach is the best way to maximise sales potential, it is the online retail platform that will grow most quickly in coming years, with three quarters of retailers planning to increase their transactional capability in 2012. CBRE research reveals that 43% of retailers plan to significantly increase their online product coverage in 2012 and 28% plan to significantly increase the geographical coverage of their transactional capability. Some retailers are setting up online platforms in new countries first to test the market before committing to a physical store, but in other instances an online presence will be sufficient in itself.

Gábor Borbély, Head of Research and Consultancy at CBRE Budapest added: “While last year the expansion strategy of retailers seemed to be strengthening in our region, this year the trend has weakened. Most countries in Central Europe will be less targeted by international brands in 2012 than seen in last year's survey. Besides Hungary, Poland and Romania have also slipped back in the rankings, but we are still ahead of many Western European markets. The development activity is weak because of the very modest growth prospects. Therefore little retail space will be added to the domestic supply in the next few years, which also delays the expansion of major international brands.”

Press Release: How active are retailers
Press Release: How active are retailers