China not only has the largest number of consumers, but also some of the world's biggest shopping centers. But China's shoppers are not yet packing the malls.
The Golden Resources shopping center on the western outskirts of Beijing is so big that it has been dubbed the "Great Mall of China". With a floor space of 560,000 square meters, it is 15 times the size of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square.
More than 1,000 shops on five floors leave few material desires unfulfilled. The luxury mall also includes cinemas, tennis courts and an ice skating rink. The parking lot has space for 10,000 cars.
Fu Yuehong is the manager of the shopping center. She says the mall was the world's biggest when a Chinese-Filipino investor opened it in 2004. Fu says her boss decided that the scale of the shopping center had to be big because China has a big population and the economy is developing fast.
Only a year later the Golden Resources mall was eclipsed by an even bigger Chinese shopping center. The giant South China Mall in Guangdong province is a mixture between a shopper's paradise and a theme park, complete with a replica of the French Arc de Triomphe.
Super-sized luxury malls are a new phenomenon in China. But the country is already home to half of the world's 10 biggest shopping centers. New malls are mushrooming everywhere, even in second-tier cities.
But many Chinese are unfamiliar with the North American concept of driving to a mall to spend several hours shopping, dining and watching movies. Also, not enough customers can afford the mainly high-end goods on sale in many of the biggest malls. On one weekday, Beijing's Golden Resources mall is almost empty.
An 80-year-old woman says she only comes to shop in the mall's supermarket downstairs. She says upstairs, it is too expensive and ordinary people like her do not need any of the high-end products on sale.
But real estate experts say mall developers are investing in the future. Anna Kalifa is head of research at the Beijing office of Jones Lang LaSalle, an international real estate consulting firm."The incomes have risen 50-percent across the country in the last five years, so I personally think these companies would like to secure the prime sites now, betting on future development," she says.
Kalifa says while Chinese customers still have to get familiar with giant shopping malls, Western retail chains such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, and Ikea are successful in China because they blend in with the local culture. Customers like the stores because they can touch and pick up merchandise at their convenience - just like at the local market.