Innovative Retailer: K11 Art Malls


Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: K11 Art Mall

The Place: In the far flung mysterious centre of the East, part of the oriental landscape of the land of the rising sun. Or is it setting?

Is it China again? Yes.

The Story: Prepare yourself for a high-falutin’ tone to this latest Innovative Retailer.

Oh really: We are leaving the sometimes grimy and grubby world of retail and taking to the elevated ivory tower of the art world.

So it’s not about selling the art? In art we meet. In art we shop. In art we play. In art we live.

What? It’s an interactive art playground where commerce becomes art, according to the website.

So you are selling pictures? Buying, selling. Who cares? The point is: does being in an art gallery make you want to buy a handbag?

Not really: The correct answer is yes. So listen up. Meet Adrian Cheng – founder of the whole museum/retail concept.

Background: Monied and western educated. His family are property billionaires with a huge estate stretching across department stores, hotels, residential and they also own the world’s largest chain of jewellers. Money is like, so not a problem. He developed a strong interest in art and my goodness does he have ambitions for art in China.

But why and how and where? I think it is fair to say that the Chinese are just getting used now to the trappings of conspicuous wealth and to having money in their pockets to spend on things in nice places. We are talking art, wine, and all the other usual collectables.

Cheese? No, people don’t collect cheese. But Cheng is about more than just creating a retail art market (although that is surely part of it). What he is actually doing is creating the consumer from scratch. And that’s why we are including him and his K11 Art Malls.

Woah. Mind blown: In his own words he is ‘grooming an audience’.

Ooh – actually slightly weird: I think his point is that a) Chinese people historically do not walk into art galleries and look at pictures. b) They are, however, now very comfortable in retail environments. c) The country is just now waking up to having a home-grown modern culture of Chinese artists.

Let’s get back to the shopping centres: The name, K11, apparently stems from the Eastern philosophy of ‘the co-existence of nothingness and substance’.

No seriously, let’s get back to the shopping centres: They are, like almost everything in China, VAST. Cheng built the first one in Hong Kong in 2008 when he first realised that it’s more westernised shoppers were deserting spaces that were purely retail but were very interested in experiences. Mainland China developed later and K11 in Shanghai opened in 2013. Each had an area which housed a collection of modern art called an ‘art playground’.

And what kind of artists are coming to play? Well, he doesn’t hold back. From the off he set up an exhibition featuring 40 Monets – the first exhibition of his work in China. As many as 200,000 queued up to view them and while there soaked up the luxury retail units and got spending. This was followed by Salvador Dali and the locals lapped it up.

Is it totally NOT about buying art: No. The art is the hook. They come to enjoy the art/classes/events and exit through the gift shop as it were with a Burberry coat.

And what is the future for K11 Art Malls? Again, as always in China, epic! Cheng wants to have 29 Malls built and operating by 2022 in nine major cities across the country. Phew.

Just tell me, as if I didn’t know, who the core customer is? Global millennials. Enough said. Footfall is consistently rising nicely for Mr Cheng who is currently busy refurbishing his earliest Hong Kong site where footfall has risen by 100% since its opening and turnover by a smooth 150%. A Wonder Pop exhibition helped the brand celebrate its 10th anniversary this year and there really is no limit to the imagination of this concept. Oh and I haven’t mentioned Musea yet.

Musea? Part of a new development in the docks in Hong Kong. The 10 storeys will house a number of international brands with flagship stores and there will also be a rotating world class art collection on display. Its façade will consist of 50,000 sq feet of green wall.

Anything else? Yes, global millennials are going to gather there to discover their muse by the sea. Musea geddit. It has an absolute focus on cultural activity which the K11 organisation is banking will now remain part of China’s new retail mentality.

Can I just check: no live polar bears in cages in a Cheng shopping centre: Oh you heard about that disgrace did you… I should blooming well say not. That’s hardly the Art/People/Nature symbiosis that Retail Insider approves of!

Do you want to know what I think? Not really.

I think this whole K11 business is essentially quite a Victorian thing. Errr.

It’s about a whole generation of people being quite formally taught how to appreciate something, and how to aspire: So like the V&A was in Victorian times just with more credit card action.

Yeah, pretty much.


PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe