S. Africa's shoppers stick with bricks over clicks

STORY: In Johannesburg the finishing touches are being given to the Kwena Square shopping complex.

Accepted wisdom may be that the global health crisis has contributed to a worldwide "apocalypse" for traditional retail.

But that doesn't appear to be the case in South Africa.

Nashil Chotoki is national retail asset manager at Redefine Properties which opens the $13 million Kwena Square on Friday (July 1).

"Certainly I think in light of growth of turn overs and up-taking foot count, retailers expansion into new stores. I don't see the mall as being dead, I think it's still very relevant to the consumer."

Many industry players and experts saw the strict lockdowns in Africa's most advanced economy as an opportunity for e-commerce.

But South Africa's $62 billion retail market has evolved differently to many other parts of the world.

High crime rates and a scarcity of safe public spaces have historically driven shoppers into commercial complexes, complete with armed guards and restricted access.

And though online sales have tripled in South Africa over the past two years - they still only make up 5% of the total.

That compares with 28% in Britain, 25% in China and 14% in the United States.

One reason is that high data costs deter many lower-income people from online retail.

But public relations manager Gomotsegang Motswatswe, one of those returning to South Africa's malls, says it's about more than shopping.

"We still want to be out there as people and socialize even if you not talking to people per se, you still want to go and just do stuff, just buy and look at stuff."

So while traditional stores and malls have been closing in countries like the UK and the U.S. - in South Africa the reverse is true.

According to property consultants Rode & Associates, around four million square feet of new leasable retail space was brought to the market over 2020 and 2021.

This year alone it's expected to be 3.2 million square feet - as commercial property developers chase the money in a country where shoppers continue to prefer bricks over clicks.

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