UK fashion chain Topshop looks set to beat up-market counterpart Zara to the punch in the race to set up shop in Perth as a host of international chains scout for sites in the one-time retailing backwater.

Speculation had focused on Zara opening an outlet in Perth's CBD by the end of the year, following the runaway success of its move into Sydney and Melbourne in April and June, respectively.

But the Spanish chain - known for its 2500sqm-plus stores with bright window displays and a distribution model that enables it to have new designs in stores within a fortnight - is yet to settle on a site in Perth and is unlikely to open its doors until late 2012 or early 2013.

"They won't compromise on location," one source said. "They're in no hurry."

The retailer is understood to be keen to snatch ground-floor space along Murray Street, where existing tenants include Swarovski, Pandora and David Jones. Zara's outlets in Sydney and Melbourne are next to David Jones department stores.

But Zara's mass-market rival, Topshop, is expected to be first to market in Perth. The chain, which has already built a strong brand presence in Australia through its online store, is due to open an outlet on Melbourne's Chapel Street next month but is understood to be looking for space in Perth to open a second store while it waits for its Sydney site to become available. The site, 100m from Zara's flagship Pitt Street outlet, is expected to open by mid-next year.

The move to gain a foothold in WA comes as retailers battle the worst trading conditions in decades. But Colliers International associate director of leasing Peter Millard said Perth had long shed its image as a retail backwater and global players were taking a "long-term view" of the local market.

"While previously the Sydney and Melbourne-based retailers saw Perth as a boom-bust (market), international retailers are looking at the larger picture," he said.

The combination of the discretionary spending downturn, which has forced some tenants into administration, and additional space created by new retail developments meant there was a window of opportunity to snare prime locations in Perth's CBD, he said.

European group H&M and US chain Abercrombie & Fitch are also thought to be scouting for locations in Perth's CBD.

But while news of the potential competition is likely to dismay local retailers, Commonwealth Bank analysts last month estimated international entrants were likely to snare less than 2 per cent of the $26.5 billion clothing and footwear market in Australia by 2017.

Calls to Zara's Australian head office were not returned yesterday.

The West Australian

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