Although Bangkok is already crammed with large shopping complexes, there are apparently shopaholics in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia who will welcome even more. Last month, The Nation reported that Central Pattana, one of Thailand’s largest shopping mall chains, will be opening three new complexes in Thailand next year with an estimated budget of 12 billion to 14 billion baht.
It is also reported that the group plans to open four more malls by 2015, with one of them being overseas. Alongside Central Pattana Group, the bulk of Thailand’s shopping complexes are owned by The Mall Group, MBK, and Siam Piwat. Altogether there are around 36 shopping malls in Thailand today. How do Thailand’s shopaholics feel about this glut of consumer options?
On one end of the spectrum there are super shoppers like Doytibet Duchanee, 36, an artist and art teacher in Thailand and the son of famed Thai painter Thawan Duchanee. Duchanee told The Diplomat he drops one million baht per month ($31,175) on shopping. Among the fashionable accoutrements he was sporting when we spoke to him was a pair of Chrome Hearts glasses. He says that the increase of shopping complexes in Thailand is a good thing for the nation and ASEAN region, as more scattered department stores means easier access for people who sometimes have to drive far to get to reach the nearest mall. Plus, that means more options.
During the interview he strolled into Officine Panerai, an Italian-Swiss luxury watch brand, and treated himself to a watch costing 279,000 baht ($8,700). When asked what he does with the luxurious watches he buys he said, “Sometimes I use them, sometimes I just let them lay around my house.”
“Different shopping centers are targeted to different customers,” he explains. “That’s why there need to be a variety of them to cater to all buyers’ needs.”
He said that if he wants to buy luxury brands he goes to upscale malls like Siam Paragon or Gaysorn, but if he is looking for something more specific – like knives – he goes to Central.
Although he is an artist, Doytibet doesn’t really share the conservative view that shopping complexes destroy a sense of community. Still, there are a few things he suggests for future department stores.
“If shopping complexes can integrate art and culture or install museums inside, that would make shopping complexes a more unique experience,” Duchanee says. Currently, shopping centers in Thailand hold one-off events to showcase artist’s work, but the works are taken down as soon as the exhibitions are over. Although Thailand has opened the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre that houses bookstores and hosts art exhibitions, events, and performances, Doytibet says he never really went there. “The place is dead, there’s not much going on there.”
Another confessed shopaholic and aspiring fashion designer, 17-year-old Grace Panvong, says she hopes Thailand builds integrated beauty complexes where girls can be made up and go to nail salons, before winding down at a spa. She says she loves investing in brand-name handbags because once she gets bored with one – after using it two or three times – she can resell it online. To fund her expensive lifestyle, she sells beauty products and brand name articles online. Although a girl with lots of money has no shortage of items to splurge on, Grace says she selects only things that will last like her latest Versace handbag.
“I don’t spend that much money on clothes,” she says. “Sometimes I see my friends spend 10,000 baht ($311) on a skirt but you can wear it only once or twice. It isn’t like buying a handbag where you can use it and sell it again.”
Grace doesn’t depend solely on buying brands from department stores, but looks for small shops that buy them from abroad and sell them privately for cheaper. She points to her Yves Saint Laurent Tribute heels which cost around 30,000 baht – that’s $900 – claiming she bought the exorbitant kicks at a discounted price at a private import shop.
Yukhonthorn Jangjarus, 32, another avid shopper of brand name clothes, shares Doytibet’s view on shopping malls. He doesn’t mind that the loss of green space in Bangkok and understands the needs for shopping complexes to turn open areas into profitable venues. He observed that although a lot of smaller community malls are built, they become defunct later if they don’t offer a multitude of services like the large shopping complexes do.
Biew Wongyunoi, 33, doesn’t really shop much in Thailand, but prefers to go abroad where everything is cheaper. But she frequently visits department stores for other reasons. “It’s really hot here so a cool shopping center is sometimes the best place to go in Thailand.”