A few weeks ago, I visited the Philippines to visit a local family, who had a business selling jewelry and cosmetics.
As we walked around the city, we encountered a lot of old shops, and a lot more shops in the surrounding areas, which we took to be the stores that had been there since the 1980s.
It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the legacy of the local industry.
“What’s your history with that?”
I asked, pointing to the old wooden shelves.
“I started selling jewelry in 1986,” said his daughter, “and I got my first store, and we still have it today.”
The young woman replied, “We had a store there when we first started in 1985, but we closed it after a couple of years.”
“It was like an industry was lost,” she continued.
“We were the only ones to keep it alive.”
I couldn’t help but ask, “Why?”
“Well, the country didn’t have enough stores,” said the daughter.
“The mall closed.
People couldn’t afford to go to malls.”
The answer is simple: The Philippines has a population of just 4.4 million people, and there are only around 30,000 stores open.
It has the second-lowest population density in the world, and in a country where only 6% of the population lives below the poverty line, the availability of stores has been a problem.
There is a good reason why there are so few stores, especially when compared to other Asian countries.
“It’s because of the price of the products,” said Maria, an assistant professor of retail management at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
“For the most part, the prices in Asia are cheaper.
But the product quality is very good, so the price is not too high.
But when you see the prices, it’s not good, it hurts the consumer.”
So, what is it about Philippine shopping culture that keeps the industry alive?
While the Philippines has many retail stores that are not in the traditional retail category, they are still important because they help the local market develop.
These stores serve as hubs for people from other countries who visit the Philippines for holidays or business, to stock up on essentials such as shampoo and conditioner, and to get a quick fix on their shopping needs.
“In the old days, there were only five or six shops in Manila.
So, people would just take their clothes and go to these shops,” said Loy, the store owner.
“But now, you can find these new stores every week.
People want to get their hands on the new stuff.”
When I visited, I also discovered that many people who live in the area are in debt, as their credit card bills and utility bills have gone up due to the high prices.
I was also told that the Philippines is experiencing a wave of urbanisation, which has led to a decrease in its number of retail stores, as the old malls are being replaced by newer, smaller stores.
As an urban dweller, I have been fortunate enough to visit more than 30 new retail stores in my life, but the majority of them were not very successful.
I have visited several other shopping malls in the past few years, but it is still hard to find new stores in a large city like Manila.
“People go to a mall and buy a bag of groceries or something like that.
When they get there, they just walk out,” said Lu, another store owner, “because there are no more stores.”
I asked him if he was surprised that the number of stores that were built during the 1980’s had declined, because the Philippines had not been able to meet demand for traditional retail products, as demand for those products was so high.
“People were looking for something different, they wanted something different,” he replied.
The Philippines has also seen a boom in the number and popularity of online shopping.
The country has become a hotbed for e-commerce, and online shopping accounts for around 15% of its GDP.
While online shopping is growing rapidly, it is not the only way people are shopping online.
People have been buying electronics and other electronic products online for years, including TVs and smartphones.
Online shopping has also grown in recent years, and with it has come the demand for more stores.
“Now, we have over 3,000 retailers in the country, and they are all in different areas.
I’ve already seen that the area of the city where I’m going to shop, is filled with more than a hundred retail stores,” Lu said.
For now, the number-one reason that Filipinos are shopping more online is because of a lack of traditional retail stores.
In the Philippines, there are two traditional retail chains: the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the National Association of Shopping Centers (NASSC).