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For Japanese Retailers, Saigon Center Opening a Sign of Good Things to Come

Across the street from a colorful, decades-old Hindu temple, motorbikes pour into the parking garage of the newly opened Saigon Center. Spiraling five floors below ground, the downtown shopping mall employs a veritable army of parking attendants and for good reason: at 3pm on a weekday, the place is packed.

After years in development limbo, the new and improved Saigon Center welcomed its first visitors over the weekend. In conjunction with Japanese retailer Takashimaya, the commercial complex covers 55,000m2 and is the product of a US$25 million investment on the part of the foreign firm.

While Saigon Center is not the first shopping mall to come to the southern hub – nor Takashimaya the first department store – the downtown shopping center stands out for a few reasons. From the outside, its sleek design represents another iconic high-rise addition to Saigon’s downtown area. Beyond looks, the complex was also singled out by the Ministry of Industry and Trade as one of the country’s most energy-efficient buildings and is also the first commercial center in the city to receive a Gold standard from Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority thanks to energy-saving technology in its air-conditioning, lighting and elevator systems.

Indoors, a full 25% of retailers are newcomers to Vietnam. Kiehl’s, Bobbi Brown, Kate Spade, United Colors of Benetton and Fred Perry – some new to the country, some simply hard to find – are counted among the over 400 local and international brands which occupy the shopping center’s seven stories, as are homegrown eateries and cafes like Phuc Long, Wrap & Roll, Guanabana and Highlands Coffee.

Of course, this is all good news for local shoppers, but it also serves as a larger milestone for Japanese investment in the country. As the island nation struggles to bolster a flagging economy at home, Vietnam’s young, working-age population – roughly 60% of Vietnamese citizens are under 35, according to Nielsen – presents attractive opportunities abroad.

“The Vietnamese economy is growing rapidly and its middle class is explosively expanding,” Nagahisa Oyama, head of Japanese firm Aeon’s Vietnam operations, recently told Bloomberg. “Its retail market is growing very quickly with strong appetite for spending, especially among young people."

Spurred on by Vietnam's business prospects, it’s now a race among foreign firms to get in on the ground floor and appeal to Vietnamese consumers ahead of their international competition. If the flurry of photo-taking and retail therapy going on yesterday afternoon is any indication, Takashimaya’s investment in Saigon Center certainly puts the company on solid footing. Mall goers were out in full force on every floor, perusing shops and sipping coffee in the large, polished atrium, snapping selfies around makeup counter displays and grazing at the brightly lit food court.

In addition to winning over Saigon’s shoppers, there is also another point of pride in the grand opening of Takashimaya’s first Vietnamese location. The retailer, which already has several stores in Japan as well as Taipei, Shanghai and Singapore, chose to set up shop in Vietnam ahead of Thailand; Bangkok won’t get its first Takashimaya until next year. In the meantime, Vietnamese consumers will be busy shopping, selfie-taking and generally taking advantage of the city's newest downtown shopping center.

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