Retail apocalypse? SA shoppers still prefer getting physical
Research shows US malls are dying as online shopping becomes the order of the day. The SA situation is rather different
While the US grapples with a “retail apocalypse” – the widespread closure of brick-and-mortar stores because of the rise of online shopping – SA malls are far from facing extinction.
Despite SA consumers tightening their purse strings as tough times befall the country, shopping malls remain “particularly popular”, the SA Council of Shopping Centres believes.
SA has an estimated 2,000 shopping centres and the bragging rights to having the sixth highest number of malls in the world.
A new study that emerged from the University of Arizona found the majority of consumers – even those who prefer shopping online – believe the extinction of brick-and-mortar stores would be detrimental for society because of lost jobs, fewer opportunities for social interaction and an increase in certain types of crime.
According to the study – from 2016 to 2017 – store closures in the US more than tripled to about 7,000.
When participants were asked to imagine a world entirely devoid of physical stores, most said it would be bad for society.
“There’s a sense that brick-and-mortar stores are part of the social fabric of our society. If they disappear, many are concerned about the economy and what this will do for jobs and revenue for communities.
“Many people also said stores were vital to their quality of life,” said University of Arizona researcher Sabrina Helm.
Amanda Stops, head of the SA Council of Shopping Centres, said: “Undoubtedly technology and e-commerce have shifted retail and shopping centres, and online retail will continue to play a role in future thanks to the convenience it offers us as our lives get busier.
“What physical retail is much better at than digital retail is offering customers an experience – one that is social, multisensory and engaging.
“Recognising this, many of South African malls have increased their experiential and social offering. They have also adopted technology to improve the in-store experience for customers.
“Previously pure-digital retailers are also keen to take advantage of this and are opening physical stores.
“Amazon, for example, is investing heavily in brick-and-mortar retail. Locally, online brands like Yuppiechef are embracing omnichannel retail and opening brick-and-mortar stores,” said Stops.
Research conducted by GfK South Africa earlier this year found many people feared they would be victims of cybercrime if they shopped online.
About 80% of South Africans were more concerned about the security of their personal information when shopping online than when shopping in a store, and 47% said the security of their personal information was a barrier to making online purchases.
Consumer guru Ncumisa Ndelu is wary of online shopping, although she does engage in it sometimes.
“Sometimes when you buy things online they don’t turn out the way they were advertised. Lots of people have stories to tell about online platforms.
“Going to a store gives you the opportunity to see, touch and feel the item, which is missing in the online experience. I use both modes.
“Sometimes malls can be daunting, the parking, the crowds, the queues ... things that you don’t deal with online.”