The retail industry is expected to grow by 6-7% next year on the back of rising farm product prices and higher wages, which will boost people's purchasing power, said executives at a seminar.
The biggest winner will likely be the convenience-store segment, which is projected to expand by at least 15%.
The formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2016 will be a major factor driving the sharp growth of the retail sector, said Santichai Santawanpas, deputy director-general of the Internal Trade Department.
The single market with 10 countries will have a population of more than 600 million, with the promise of more urbanisation when the middle-income group grows.
Besides, the number of tourists and border trade will increase, benefiting Thailand's retail business.
The retail business, worth 1.4 trillion baht or 12% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011, is expected to expand 6-7% next year, said Thanavath Phonvichai, vice-president for research at the UTCC's Center for Economic and Business Forecasting.
The Thai retail business will expand to Asean in the future as Thai operators have higher management skills and merchandising expertise than their regional peers.
"I'm not worried about the entry of foreign retailers into Thailand. Most of them are non-food and they will find it difficult to secure space to open their outlets," he said.
In Asean, Vietnam is the most interesting for retail as the local government allows foreign investors to own up to 100% in the sector.
But the disadvantages of Thais are limited investment budgets and lack of English-language proficiency.
At home, there are 9,000 convenience stores nationwide and the number will rise next year as modern trade will further expand to provincial areas.
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