The Doi Moi economic reform in Vietnam has led to rapid economic development and increased domestic consumption, resulting in the expanding retail sector in the country. To meet the demand of Vietnam’s growing population and emerging middle class, the retail industry has evolved in recent years in both urban and rural areas. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the wholesale and retail sector, together with the vehicle maintenance sector, accounted for almost 12 percent of the country’s GDP and showed constant year-on-year growth. The pandemic has put an end to the sector’s growth track and has significantly altered how Vietnamese people shop.
Retail segments and channels in Vietnam
Within the retail sector in Vietnam, food and beverage make up the largest segment, contributing over 51 billion U.S. dollars in retail sales in 2020. As consumer demands are shifting more towards convenience products, packaged food has been among the items with the highest revenue growth within the food sector. On the other hand, other retail segments such as electronic devices and household goods have experienced steady growth thanks to increasing consumption.
While traditional retail channels such as street stores and wet markets still accounted for the country's largest share of retail sales, modern trade channels have shown steady growth and a high penetration rate over the years. Convenience stores and supermarkets have increased their presence by continuously opening new outlets. In urban areas, many Vietnamese consumers have demonstrated a higher preference for modern channels over traditional ones. Although local brands such as VinMart and Bach Hoa Xanh have dominated the modern retail landscape, many foreign retailers have gained popularity, such as Japanese Aeon and Korean Lotte franchises. In recent years, an increasing share of retail sales was from e-commerce.
COVID-19 pandemic impacts and the future of the Vietnamese retail sector
Since the first COVID-19 infection was recorded in early 2020, Vietnam has gone through several national and regional lockdowns. Apart from grocers, many physical stores needed to remain closed during these lockdowns. Instead of traditional retailers, consumers often opt for modern trade channels or e-commerce when shopping due to their concerns for hygiene and safety. E-commerce channels, previously more commonly used in urban areas and for non-essential products, have been thriving since then, catering to households across Vietnam with a much wider range of product categories. For instance, e-commerce spending on food products grew by over 86 percent in 2021. On the other hand, in general, the spending intention among consumers decreased considerably in many product categories apart from food and beverages and healthcare items, partially due to the impact of the pandemic on income and employment among Vietnamese people. On the bright side, the recovery of the Vietnamese economy and the recent removal of many COVID-19 restrictions, including travel restrictions in 2021, is expected to put the retail sector in Vietnam back on its growth track in the near future.
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