Analysis: Why optimism is high in Cambodia’s shopping centre landscape


The mall, a four-level atrium with about 40,000sqm of floor area, stands in a retail-rich neighbourhood that already boasts, among other things, Cambodia’s second-biggest mall – Aeon 2 – along with the country’s first Makro Cash & Carry wholesaler and a Global House home-improvement centre. 

The reason for the interest developers and retailers have in Sen Sok is not hard to see: it has a strong demographic that includes a large contingent of expats. Moreover, a number of government departments and bank headquarters have relocated there in recent years, injecting an affluent office worker contingent into the customer base of surrounding retail projects.

Chip Mong Sen Sok is the retail end of a mixed-use development (The Parkland Sen Sok) that includes a high-end residential component whose rows of identical multi-level villas are visible, like chains of white wedding cakes, from the mall. The mall itself is a slick package in at least two respects: it has a clean, bright interior with glistening storefronts, and it packs in an impressive range of discretionary and non-discretionary retail, food, and beverage. 

The Chip Mong Group, which developed and operates the mall, is a sprawling conglomerate with activities including beer brewing, property development, banking, building materials, and consumer products, as well as retail. And when it comes to retail, it knows its stuff; along with the local arm of Japan’s Aeon, it is one of the two top retail operators in Cambodia. This extends not only to design and development, but also to management. Lawrence Lennon, managing director of CBRE Cambodia said: “Management of the malls from the two key dominant players, Aeon and Chip Mong, is very professional. I am regularly impressed with the quality of design and overall management of both developers’ projects.” 

Inside Chip Mong Sen Sok

At Chip Mong Sen Sok, a gleaming company supermarket anchors the ground level of the mall. The next two levels include a mix of branded apparel and electronics. On level 3 is a FoodPark food court, but not a conventional one with vendors surrounding a central seating area. Instead, vendors operate out of playful installations that mimic motor rickshaws (‘tuk-tuks’) and buses, Phnom Penh’s trademark street conveyances. On level 3, opposite the FoodPark, is an ultra-modern Neo Game Oasis. To cap it all off, the top level is a Legend Cinema.

The mall is at its busiest during the late afternoon, particularly on the weekends. Like a lot of retail projects in Phnom Penh, it is built as much for the future as for the present. Before Covid-19, as far as global retailers were concerned, the city was a poorer cousin of other, juicier markets in the region. Non-food retailers were waiting for a higher threshold of income, and the fact that Cambodia does not offer a larger number of major urban centres in which to expand outside Phnom Penh didn’t help. 

In comparison, neighbours Vietnam and Thailand both sport a number of cities outside their respective capitals that have attractive demographics for global retailers. 

Developments large and small

In terms of overall space, the two community malls are a drop in the ocean in the context of the scale of retail development in Phnom Penh. CBRE Cambodia expects retail space to double, roughly, by the end of 2023, which will require a downward adjustment in occupancy and rents – temporarily, at least. In fact, occupancy across the capital stood at just 68.4 per cent in the second quarter. Yet this is not deterring developers or retailers. With the impending opening of two large modern retail projects – a third Aeon mall and a Chip Mong mega-mall – expectations are high.

“We anticipate that following the opening [of Aeon 3 and Chip Mong Mega Mall] there will be a range of new retailers and retail experiences unfolding in the market,” CBRE’s Lennon said.

“Considering their respective scale, these two developments amount to a retail revolution giving all residents of Phnom Penh significant new choices of places to go, things to do and consume. Q2 2022 saw the entry of H&M in the market, expect to see similar high-profile retailers opening their doors in these new projects.” 

But not all aspirations are for giant retail projects. Cambodia is becoming as famous as Thailand for its small, stylish community malls. Fifteen minutes away from Sen Sok, in the northern suburb of Russey Keo, Chip Mong has just opened another one: the diminutive Chip Mong 598. It, too, is part of a Chip Mong mixed-use project, called The Parkland 598, and the mall was opened with low occupancy while waiting for the other components of the development to catch up. It is quiet, and the escalator to the top level is roped off, but the hoardings on the lower levels announce more retailers coming soon.

Optimism is high here, and with good reason. Many credit the government for managing the pandemic crisis well, specifically with respect to an efficient vaccine rollout and reviving economic activity as quickly as possible. Driving around the capital, there are new construction projects everywhere. 

“That’s a new mall going up” the guide said, passing a building site, then again several blocks later, and then a couple of blocks after that. CBRE’s projections of new retail space coming online, which seemed on the high side on paper the day before, suddenly looked quite accurate. 

Without doubt, the malls will be there. The big question is just how quickly the retailers will step up.

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