Two tourists use their smartphones outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong, Saturday, May 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Beijing - China is turning to shopping malls and convenience stores to better gauge spending in the world’s largest consumer market, the latest step toward upgrading its economic indicators.

The gauges measure operations for those businesses on a scale of 0 to 100, in which 50 is the dividing line between improving and deteriorating conditions, with sub-gauges that include manager expectations and the overall business environment, the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.

It will publish the data in the first month of each quarter to reflect activity in the prior three-month period. "As China’s retail sales keep expanding, innovating and updating at a faster pace, shopping malls and convenience stores stand out as the most rapidly developing brick-and-mortar models," Sun Jiwen, a ministry spokesman, said at a briefing in Beijing.

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The new readings show the government pushing ahead with efforts to track to consumption, which is increasingly replacing smokestack industries as the dominant economic driver. Consumption contributed 77.2% to economic expansion in the first quarter, up from 64.6% the prior year, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

National Scope

The mall index covers 58 cities in 26 provinces, while the convenience store indicator is compiled from surveys conducted in more than 30 cities, the ministry said in its statement.

The ministry has contracted with the China Chain Store and Franchise Association, a Beijing-based industry group, to compile the index, Sun said. The organization has more than 1 000 members with 300 000 outlets, according to its website.

Sun said the convenience store index indicated rapid expansion with a 72.2 reading for the last quarter, though he didn’t provide any historical comparisons. Cities such as Shenzhen, Taiyuan and Changsha showed the fastest growth in the small shops, he said.

The ministry didn’t release first quarter data for malls. It said it will publish that reading and both second-quarter indicators next month.

"The gauges will provide more information and help us understand the economy better," said Zhao Hongyan, Hong Kong-based China economist at Huatai Financial Holdings.

"Consumption has been a new growth driver, and it has been steady. We hope that it can be a more important pillar of the economy."