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Chinese consumer spending trends move fast. Overbuilding and the rise of ecommerce, which grew to account for 12 per cent of retail sales in the first quarter, have hastened the demise of bricks and mortar outlets. The market value of chains Parkson and Golden Eagle, which listed as retailing grew in the mid 2000s, has collapsed from $6bn or so apiece to fractions of that level. Legacy businesses will not survive without investment in technology and new formats to retain share — and even that will not save them all.

In May, the China Chain Store and Franchise Association said sales at the top 100 retail chain operators, led by Suning and Gome, rose just 4 per cent in 2015, the slowest pace since 2007. Worst hit were department stores where sales fell 1 per cent. As shoppers turn to the internet, an online strategy is increasingly important. Yet Fung Business Intelligence Centre says 17 of the top 100 retailers have not yet gone online. Underscoring the importance, more than half of those online rely on mobile shopping for at least three-tenths of revenues.

Some are disposing of assets to change tack. On Tuesday Malaysia-based Parkson, which began its 20-year history in Beijing, said it will sell a department store in the city’s pricey residential district, Chaoyang. Despite a well-heeled catchment, the store has been lossmaking since it opened in December 2010. Parkson should realise a gain of $135m on the sale, worth one-half of its market capitalisation based on Tuesday’s undisturbed share price. Still, the sale may not help growth. While Parkson has earmarked the funds to enhance its business, it has yet to find new opportunities.

The competitive environment is worsening. Despite the poor outlook, last year JLL said 40m square metres of new mall space is slated to complete by 2017, almost half that built in the 15 years before 2015. Even if some are for upgrades, malls will have to close.

Some operators such as Wanda Group have shifted their offering towards restaurants and cinemas. As more follow, that sector too may find the peak of its cycle shortlived.

Email the Lex team at lex@ft.com

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