A Bullish Opening for Aeon Mall

The country’s largest shopping mall officially opened Monday in a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, with the Japanese investors behind the $200-million Aeon Mall saying that another three malls in Cambodia were in the pipeline.

Speaking to about 500 people at the opening ceremony, Mr. Hun Sen said the new mall symbolized the possibility for consumer-oriented development in the country.

Shoppers walk through the center of Aeon Mall on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Shoppers walk through the center of Aeon Mall on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“This area is the one that shows the potential for other developments in Cambodia,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “We have to do whatever it takes to bolster and bring in more investment from Japan to Cambodia.”

Mr. Hun Sen and Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida, who is on a three-day visit to the country, then cut a red ribbon stretching across the mall’s entrance and took a 10-minute tour of the shopping center.

Operated by Japan-based retail giant Aeon Co. Ltd., the four-story mall sits on 100,000 sq m off Sothearos Boulevard in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district and includes 190 shops, an ice rink, food courts and a seven-screen Cineplex adjacent to a bowling alley. It also includes a number of Aeon Microfinance kiosks for shoppers who require microloans to buy the goods on offer.

Aeon Mall officials said Monday the company targeted Cambodia because of its growing consumer class, and plans to build more malls over the next six years.

Shinobu Washizawa, managing director of Aeon (Cambodia) Co. Ltd., said that by 2020, Aeon wants to construct three more malls on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

“Twenty- to 30-year-olds are our target,” he said, adding that the prices at the mall were in line with the spending power of the country’s young professionals.

“The prices are reasonable,” he said.

However, some customers perusing the mostly high-end shops that fill the mall—including French designer Pierre Cardin, Thai-based Classify Collection and U.S.-owned Levi Strauss & Co.—said they would have to hold off on buying many of the items for sale.

“This is far different from other markets I have gone to,” said Ngoy Sok Kien, 23. “The goods here are expensive. We can buy something if we want, but we’d have to save.”

Those who did make purchases said they took solace in the guarantee that products are authentic.

“I will come to buy more in the next few days because the quality of the clothes is good,” said Eng Srey Noch, 21, who bought a pair of $50 jeans from the store Fashion Port @ Tokyo.

Soichi Okazaki, president and CEO of Aeon Mall Co. Ltd., said the mall had averaged 100,000 visitors a day since it opened to the public on Saturday.

At the mall Monday, thousands of people filled the walkways. At least one parking lot was full by 1 p.m. and turned away drivers, with a sign reading: “Please come back later.”

Though Aeon Mall has been an immediate boost to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, whether it leads the way for similar investments in the country’s growing middle class remains to be seen, analysts said Monday.

“It’s definitely a boost to FDI, and over time you’d expect more malls as Cambodia’s economy grows further, and is able to support such large developments,” said Rohan George, head of global markets at ANZ Royal bank.

Douglas Clayton, founder and CEO of Leopard Capital, a private equity firm focusing on developing markets in Southeast Asia, said it was too soon to say whether there is enough demand in the country to support the abundance of new shopping centers planned in the coming years.

“Time will tell whether the local market is deep enough to support all the malls being planned,” he said. “But the best projects will surely succeed over the long term.”

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