PENANG'S retail scene appears to be on the boil, if the number of shopping or lifestyle malls which have sprouted or are being constructed are anything to go by.
Just how well these establishments and their tenants are doing is anyone's guess, even if some of the major ones found on the island and Seberang Prai appear to not be lacking in terms of human traffic.
The island is currently home to less than 10 shopping malls, while Seberang Prai has about half the number. Not all these establishments are raking in high profits. Those which are managed by professionals and boast solid anchor tenants are the ones who are finding themselves profitable.
Others have been known to be spiraling downwards due to poor management and inadequate planning. Tenants in these centres are finding themselves left with no choice but to move out or come up with novel ways of luring consumers to survive.
A check on the type of merchandise stocked in some outlets reveal that stock has not been refreshed for some time. Others, by virtue of in-store promotions and sales are seeing a little better business although the general consensus is that retail shoppers are not buying as much as they used to.
While some food and beverage establishments with vantage locations continue to see a constant flow of diners, others are lamenting the fact that things have slowed down.
Others doing relatively well as those offering entertainment options like cineplexes, beauty and fitness outlets and also good bookstores.
Some tenants who find themselves struggling appear to be those who are faced with increased rentals and a shrinking pool of patrons (who tend to flock over to the next mall when a new one opens).
For those those living in neighbourhoods within close proximity to shopping malls, especially on the Penang island, their regular gripes these days are centred on horrendous traffic jams in their areas, especially during long weekends and peak hour.
These residents are forced to contend with haphazard parking by those who opt not to park in the generous number of parking bays provided by shopping mall operators.
In order to save parking fees, shoppers have no qualms in parking illegally in a residential area for hours on end, sometimes even blocking the entry way of house owners into their own properties.
Questions being asked about Penang malls are:
* Does Penang need more shopping malls which essentially mirror each other when it comes to tenant mix?
* Are traffic dispersal systems taken into consideration by the local authorities when giving planning permission for projects which generate massive traffic flow into an area?
* Whose responsibility is it - the local government or the business operator's - to ensure that the quality of life enjoy by those living in the vicinity of malls are not adversely affected when a property developer decides to build a neighbourhood mall in their midst?
As traffic congestion in Penang is now getting to unbearable levels during festive and holiday periods, perhaps a review is needed on where future malls should be located, and if these malls are even needed in such great numbers in the first place.
Like most other Malaysians, Penang residents love their malls and their shopping habits sometimes have a tendency to spur a mall-building boom.
The financial shape of retailers and both national and international property developers must also be looked into when shopping malls are being proposed.
Also to consider should be the fact that Internet shopping has and continues to grow by leaps and bounds and that the retail sector would likely be one of the first casualties during an economic downturn.
This in turn, will likely see a state or country left with an increasing number of abandoned - or dead - malls.
By Business Times