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Top Thai retailer Central Group plans IPO of department store unit

[BANGKOK] Central Group, Thailand's largest mall operator, said on Wednesday it would list its Central Retail Corporation unit, which will combine retail businesses in Thailand, Vietnam and Italy.

"We are reaching customers in new ways through physical and digital platforms," Central Group President Yol Phokasub said in a statement.

"The platforms are especially focused on personalisation, based on data from our 27 million customers worldwide."

Central, owned by the billionaire Chirativat family, has nearly 2,000 stores in Thailand, 134 in Vietnam, and nine in Italy under the Rinascente brand.

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The plan for listing comes amid intense competition among retailers and online shopping. Last year, rival Siam Piwat opened a billion-dollar luxury shopping mall, while the Mall Group also plans a new US$300 million entertainment and retail complex.

Central's online strategy has been patchy with the acquisition of Zalora Thailand, a US$500 million joint-venture with China's, a US$200 investment in the Thai unit of Singapore-based ride-hailing firm Grab.

Sales are also under pressure as e-commerce gains popularity in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, with Alibaba's Lazada and Tencent-backed Shopee battling for market share.

As part of the share sale, Central will delist another retail subsidiary, Robinson Pcl, where it holds a majority stake, with a tender offer for the newly issued shares with no cash alternative.