Guest Column

Just another brick in the mall

2017-08-06 06:06
Stuttafords’ concept is no longer relevant to modern consumers

Stuttafords’ concept is no longer relevant to modern consumers

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Dion Chang

Last week, Stuttafords – the once iconic department store of South African retail – finally closed its doors, at the age of 159.

If you’re in retail, you’ll know that things are pretty dire, and we’re not alone.

In January, Macy’s department store in the US closed almost 70 of its stores, shedding more than 10 000 jobs.

Whether it’s in New York, London or Johannesburg, retailers are consolidating, streamlining and retrenching.

It’s what many are calling the global retail Armageddon.

Most people blame a sluggish global economy and in South Africa, it’s not just sluggish, we’re technically in a recession.

Disposable income has all but evaporated, but it is just one element of a perfect storm that has been brewing for the retail sector.

The trend of “transient ownership”, AKA the sharing economy, is growing.

Digital mobility with platforms such as Uber are radically changing the way we view car ownership, as is the notion of hiring versus buying – everything from special occasion outfits to tools and appliances.

This propels the growing mantra of “less stuff, more stories” – a mindset where experiences, rather than material goods, are becoming more valued – hence the effort by malls and retailers to lure customers in with “experiential marketing” – an attempt to deepen the shopping experience.

But even getting people to set foot in a bricks-and-mortar space is becoming more challenging.

The impact of online shopping is beginning to make its mark.

Sceptics will argue that in South Africa, online shopping only accounts for around 1% of retail turnover.

In the US, online shopping only accounts for 8% of turnover and yet the ripple effect is evident.

Even if the percentage of online shopping is small, it nevertheless is changing customers’ shopping habits.

You might not be buying everything online, but the preshopping process is becoming fully entrenched.

The more you research before you buy, the less likely you are to wander around a mall and make impulse purchases.

This creates the “stealth bomber shopper”: someone who goes to the mall, but parks at the closest entrance to where they need to go, so they can get in and out as fast as they can.

No dawdling, no browsing, no incidental shopping.


Then there is brand availability.

Globalisation has brought what were previously unattainable international brands into the country.

This is one of the big reasons for Stuttafords’ decline.

The store-within-a-store concept, to house these international brands, has become obsolete.

People are travelling more, or many international brands have opened up their own stores in South Africa. With brand availability comes brand homogeny – a growing problem for our malls. Almost every mall in South Africa houses the same retail chains. There is little to differentiate mall offerings, and yet we keep building malls.

This is the elephant in South Africa’s retail space.

We have a chronic oversupply of retail space, coupled with a shrinking consumer spend.

The IMM Journal of strategic marketing reveals that out of 2 082 shopping centres throughout Africa, 1 950 are in South Africa.

When we drill down to the square meterage of retail space, South Africa ranks as sub-Saharan Africa’s most saturated retail market, with more than 10 million square metres of retail space, representing 88% of the available space in the region.

According to the SA Shopping Council, South Africa has the sixth most shopping centres in the world – and yet, we continue to build more malls.

We seem to be stuck in a my-mall-is-bigger-than-your-mall culture.

Last year, Menlyn Park regional shopping centre in Pretoria embarked on a R2bn redevelopment that will add 50 000m² of additional retail space to its already massive footprint, making it one of the largest malls in Africa.

But there’s competition (of course).

In February this year, the Fourways Mall expansion project in Johannesburg broke ground.

This project, costing R23.7m, will see the mall become a retail behemoth of 175 000m² under one roof as the project will eventually engulf the existing mall with Fourways Game, Fourways View, Cedar Square, The Buzz shopping centre and Leaping Frog.

Reporting on this expansion project, the Construction Review commented:

“The redevelopment is anticipated to aid in regaining support from this lost customer base and compete on the level of other super-regional centres following the introduction of large international retailers, for instance Hamleys, H&M, Cotton On, Mango, G-Star and specialist entertainment offerings such as Bounce and KidZania.”

Déjà vu?

Unfortunately, since that article was published, Mango has already shut all their stand-alone stores, and indications are that H&M is one of the only international retailers with the capacity to expand.

In this day and age, building it bigger will not necessarily mean that they will come.

Consumer mind-set has changed and much of it is heading online (South Africa’s internet penetration will reach 40% this year), whether it is for preshopping, e-commerce convenience or entertainment.

It’s a warning to bricks-and-mortar retailers (and mall developers), when your customers are plugged in online, no one can hear you scream.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit


Do you think online trends will in time replace the need for shopping centres?

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