SHANGHAI: The Chinese retail sector remains highly fragmented with the five largest firms accounting for just 13.4% of the overall market, according to new figures from Kantar Worldpanel.

The research firm said the Walmart group is currently the largest FMCG retailer in China, with a 3.6% sales value share and a reach of 21.3% of Chinese families.

But there is no clear single dominant player in the sector.

CR Vanguard Group and RT Mart follow in second and third position, with a 2.9% and 2.7% share respectively.

But with the sheer size of China posing huge geographical challenges, Jason Yu, General Manager for Kantar Worldpanel China, said he believed that there is still much to play for.

"In China, the modern [retail] trade currently represents only 46% share of the FMCG sector, so it is no surprise that most retailers continue to accelerate new store openings and formats to strengthen their position in this rapidly growing market," he commented.

"So far, there is no dominant national player - a reflection of the fact that local chains are increasingly competitive and often have a significant stronghold in certain regions."

Compared with western firms, the Chinese hypermarkets sector is notably scant on dominance, notes Kantar.

With 129 hypermarkets, RT-Mart has a 2.7% share, while Carrefour's 156 outlets and Walmart's 175 give them each 2.3%.

Yu said: "With the current stores portfolio, all three major hypermarket chains are still only able to reach just less than 15% of Chinese households, due to the immense geographic distance between cities.

"Hence all major retailers intend to open more stores in the coming 3-5 years to gain a bigger share of increasing consumer wealth."

Most global retailers have chosen to launch their Chinese adventure via coastal provinces and a first tier city entry point, gradually expanding thereafter to the emerging lower tier cities and inland provinces.

Their market shares, therefore, typically reflect this pattern of expansion.

For example, Carrefour holds a 5.2% share in municipalities and provincial capitals, but only 1% in level B cities and 0.1% in cities ranked as C.

But RT-Mart, which overtook Carrefour as the biggest hypermarket operator in retail sales last year, may only record a 2% share in the first tier cities.

Nevertheless, RT-Mart leads by a significant margin in cities ranked as B and C, retaining a 4.4% and 3% share respectively.

Data sourced from Kantar Worldpanel; additional content by Warc staff