Tag: covid-19

By Edward West for IOL

Attacq, the real estate investment trust (Reit) that holds Mall of Africa and Waterfall City among its assets, said the easing of lockdown restrictions from March 1, 2021 had resulted in a marked improvement in trading density growth at its retail centres.

All its tenants were able to trade with minimal restrictions, the group said yesterday in an update of its retail portfolio’s trading performance, and progress made to improve its capital structure.

At Mall of Africa, trading density improved 33 percent versus March 2020, compared with a 0.8 percent decline recorded in February over the same month a year before, and a 14.1 percent decline in January on the same basis.

Brooklyn Mall saw trading density up 7 percent on the same basis, compared with a 17 percent decline in February and a 14.1 percent decline in January.

Eikestad Mall saw trading density up 12.7 percent in March, versus a 24.5 percent decline in February and a 30.6 percent decline in January.

Attacq’s operations for the first six months of the 2021 financial year had been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic’s second wave of infections and further national lockdown restrictions.

Post-December 31, Attacq settled 35.8 million euro of euro debt from proceeds of the disposal of MAS Real Estate shares, significantly de-risking foreign exchange risk.

Assuming the debt repayment took place on July 1, 2020, Attacq’s gearing ratio at December 31, 2020 would have improved to 44.1 percent from 46.3 percent.

Attacq had also started refinancing its R3.3 billion syndicated loan secured by the portfolios of its subsidiaries, Attacq Retail Fund Proprietary and Lynnwood Bridge Office Park, R2.9bn of which matures during the 2022 calendar year.

The refinance was expected to be implemented by June 30, 2021, while the balance of the loan of R300m was expected to be repaid with proceeds from the sale of assets.

Attacq’s share price increased 1.1 percent to R7.38 on the JSE yesterday afternoon. It was trading at R5.12 at the same day last year.

The share closed 1.37 percent higher at R7.40 on the JSE yesterday.

RMB concerned over rising food costs

By Marleny Arnoldi for Creamer Media

Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) says rapidly rising agricultural producer price inflation poses a conundrum for food manufacturers about whether to absorb these cost increases or pass them on to already financially constrained consumers.

The bank’s commentary follows figures released in the Producer Price Inflation for March, which showed that agricultural producer price inflation accelerated to 12.3% year-on-year in November 2020, before settling at a still high 7.2% in March.

RMB consumer, food and agrisector head John van Tubbergh says many of the large food manufacturers have cited soaring prices of key agricultural products as a real threat to margins.

“Digging deeper into the constituents of this figure, the inflation rates for cereals and other crops, as well as dairy products are 17.2% and 12.6%, respectively. Producer price inflation for live animals and animal products is 9.8%,” explains Van Tubbergh.

Combined cereals, dairy and animal products make up nearly 60% of the agricultural producer price basket.

Price pressures at the agricultural level are also beginning to drive manufacturing costs up.

From subdued levels of around 4% last year, manufactured producer food price inflation has quickened from 6.9% year-on-year in February to 8.1% in March. This rate now well exceeds Consumer Price Index food price inflation, which means gross margins of food manufacturers are getting squeezed.

“Amid a still weak economy with households financially under strain this leaves food manufacturers with some difficult decisions to make,” Van Tubbergh notes.

He adds that food manufacturers have already responded by cutting internal costs and optimising processes to help reduce the pressure on margins. For example, RMB is being requested to hedge against cost increases resulting from soaring agricultural commodity prices.

Work-from-home dynamics have given food manufacturers some wiggle room, RMB chief economist Ettiene le Roux puts forward.

“Owing to Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, many consumers are staying at home and consuming more basic groceries. Taking advantage of this increased demand food manufacturers have been able to raise selling prices.

“But even so, it will be difficult for them to continue hiking prices as much as they would like,” he says.

RMB is convinced that South African consumers face many headwinds, including high fuel prices and increased municipal rates and taxes and this at a time when salary increases are scarce and pay cuts abundant.

“Consumers will, therefore, be very sensitive to any further sharp price increases, a dynamic food manufacturers no doubt would be aware of in today’s ever more competitive corporate landscape,” Le Roux laments. 

Ramaphosa announces Easter restrictions 

Source: eNCA

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on the country’s COVID-19 response.

Adjustments to the restrictions are as follows:

  • The national curfew remains from midnight to 4am
  • Public recreational spaces such as beaches, parks and dams will remain open, subject to strict health protocols, such as social distancing, mask-wearing.
  • Funerals remain restricted to a maximum of 100 people and with a two-hour limit on services.
  • Interprovincial travel will still be permitted
  • The sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 2 to 5 April.
  • On-site sales at restaurants, shebeens and bars will be allowed, according to licensing conditions, up until 11pm.
  • Religious gatherings over the Easter period will be restricted to a total number of 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors.
  • Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 percent of the capacity of the venue may be used.
  • Congregants should not gather outside their usual places of worship, and people must go home and not sleep over after services.

“We will review these measures on the size of gatherings within the next 15 days based on an assessment on the state of the pandemic and the extent of compliance with health protocols,” he said.

The president related some of the struggles and triumphs experienced in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What has perhaps been most difficult of all is how the pandemic has affected the social interactions that make us feel part of a community. We miss the many things we once took for granted, like being able to visit our loved ones, go to a party, or attend religious services.”

He said that, for the past two weeks, the number of new cases has remained relatively stable at around 1,200 new cases per day.

“The number of hospitalisations is declining, as is the number of deaths. Our national recovery rate stands at slightly higher than 95 percent.”

Ramaphosa also gave an update on the national vaccination programme, which he said is gaining momentum.

He said the first phase of the vaccination programme, targetting healthcare workers, would be completed within three months.

“We have secured 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which we know to be effective against the dominant variants in our country. We have secured a further 20 million doses and are finalising the agreement with Johnson & Johnson.

“We are also finalising an agreement for 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses. Together, this supply of vaccines will provide us with enough doses to vaccinate 41 million people,” he said.

Ramaphosa also said government is currently negotiating with manufacturers of other vaccines, including the Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sputnik V.

“In addition to the vaccine doses we will receive directly through our agreements with manufacturers, we will also receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union initiative that we established when we held the Chairship of the AU.”

The president said Phase 2 of the vaccination drive is scheduled to begin in mid-May.

Registration to be vaccinated is scheduled to start in April with facilities for online and in-person registration.

Ramaphosa also said mechanisms to vaccinate undocumented people are being developed.

The president gave news from his visit to the Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape.

In November, Aspen Pharmacare collaborated with Johnson & Johnson to establish the capacity required for the manufacturing of the vaccines.

READ: COVID-19 vaccine: J&J commits 30 million doses for SA

The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust has signed a procurement agreement on behalf of African Union member states for 220-million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with an option for an additional 180-million doses.

The president thanked the private healthcare sector, private enterprise working through the Solidarity Fund and the Vodacom Group for support with the vaccine drive.

“We commend the Vodacom Group and Vodafone Foundation, which have pledged R87 million in the African countries in which they operate for cold chain storage and logistics so that COVID-19 vaccines are delivered securely.

“In addition, Vodacom will be deploying a state-of-the-art vaccine management platform across the AU member states, following a successful roll-out of the same platform in South Africa,” he said.

The president gave an update on the regulations instituted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the Easter weekend.

Given relatively low transmission levels, the country will remain on Alert Level 1.

Retailers pessimistic about the future

By Lameez Omarjee for News24

A potential third wave of Covid-19 infections, and possible renewed restrictions will likely harm the retail sector and traders are generally pessimistic about the future.

The trade sector reported declining confidence across the board according to the retail trade survey for the first quarter of 2021, which was released by the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) on Tuesday. During the quarter, the country moved from lockdown level 3 restrictions – in which an alcohol sales ban and a lengthened curfew was implemented in January and February – to lockdown level 1 in March. Most of the responses were received during the last two weeks of February, when the peak of the second wave of Covid-19 infections had passed.

“As expected, the trade sector experienced another tough start to the new year. Much of the performance of the sector still largely reflects a Covid-19 narrative.

“Be it in terms of its restrictions on trade or its impact on the labour market, the pandemic’s sustained influence on business and consumer sentiment remains concerning amid the uncertainty about its trajectory,” the report read.

After making a recovery from its 29-year low of 11 points in the second quarter of 2020, to 50 points by the fourth quarter, retailers’ confidence levels declined by 13 points to 37 during the first quarter of 2021.

“This was to be expected considering that much of the momentum gained in the final quarter of last year was from pent-up demand for alcohol, anticipated festive season sales and the vital social grant top-ups, which all petered out by the first quarter,” the report read.

During the fourth quarter, retailers also benefitted from demand in durable goods – related to home improvements and home office equipment and furniture, but this was reversed during the first quarter. Sales volumes of durable goods and semi-durable goods, such as clothing, footwear, sporting equipment, declined. Sales volumes of non-durable goods like foods, beverages, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics sales volumes held steady.

Price increases

“… Retailers in general kept selling prices elevated, and durable goods retailers in particular hiked their prices,” the report read. Price hikes are linked to increases in import prices and high food inflation. “Costs associated with Covid-19 related hygiene protocols also remain an extra expense to retailers. Looking ahead, rising fuel and electricity prices will also have an impact on prices,” the report read.

Wholesaler confidence levels remained relatively flat, declining from 59 points in the previous quarter to 58 points, this despite a deterioration in business conditions, lower sales volumes and a lack of pricing power. According to the BER, the sustained confidence may reflect optimism about business conditions in the second quarter.

“Consumer goods wholesalers expect to profit from a pick-up in alcohol sales amid eased trading restrictions, winter clothing sales and, more importantly, the resilient agricultural sector which has benefitted from favourable weather conditions and bumper crops,” the report read.

Non-consumer goods wholesalers – such as those selling building materials, chemicals and metal ores are expected to benefit from better global growth in 2021.

Weak economic growth, low business and consumer confidence and a fragile labour market knocked the domestic motor trade industry.

New vehicle trader confidence declined from 41 points to 35 points in the first quarter. “… Sales remain depressed and well below the 12-year average reading for this indicator,” the report read.

However, new vehicle dealers expect business conditions and sales volumes to improve in the second quarter. “Much of the optimism is fuelled by the prospect of a further recovery in the domestic economy and more people returning to work, which could boost sales volumes given that interest rates remain low,” the report read.

The BER highlighted that the overall retail sector is pessimistic about business conditions and sales volumes, going into the second quarter.

Other consumer pressures such as fuel and electricity price hikes, higher food inflation coupled with below inflation adjustments to social grants and the special relief grant and the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme drawing to a close in April, will negatively impact non-durable goods sales volumes.

“The weak labour market as well as the power supply crisis at Eskom also do not bode well for the trade sector in general,” the report read.

The BER noted that pent-up demand for durable goods, have mostly been met. Second quarter performance will likely depend on semi-durable goods retailers, especially linked to sales of winter clothes and school uniforms.

 

859 hours of loadshedding in 2020

By Kaylynn Palm for EWN

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on Tuesday said for almost 10% of 2020, there was load shedding.

A report compiled by the council said the country endured 859 hours of blackouts last year.

The council’s Jarrad Wright said: “Possibly going forward, it doesn’t seem like it is going to look good, which is why our biggest recommendation is procurement that talks to a customer response and enabling regulatory frameworks especially for large customers to start to self-supply for themselves.”

He’s suggested the problem be tackled in various ways: “We can’t just rely on the coal fleet returning and it seems like it has not and doesn’t look like it will as its eligibility level declined from 2019 from 67% to 65% in 2020.”

He said during the COVID-19 lockdown last April, electricity demand went down significantly but when the country came out of the risk-adjusted strategy, it shot back up.

“Nothing really changed in terms of energy availability and as a result of that, there was a return to load shedding.”

Third wave may arrive sooner than expected

By Mia Lindeque for EWN

There are concerns that a third wave of COVID-19 infections may hit South Africa earlier than expected.

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country will move to level one lockdown, which allows for large gatherings of up to 250 people outdoors and a maximum of 100 indoors. Restrictions on alcohol sales have also been lifted.

Vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi on Tuesday said he believed the third wave could come just after the Easter festivities.

“Over the Easter period, for example, there’ll be large religious gatherings. Unfortunately, those type of gatherings will result in transmission, which means there’ll be an acceleration in terms of the onset of the resurgence.”

He said it was also unknown how the virus would react in the coming months.

Madhi said the threat of a third wave was inevitable, regardless of which lockdown level South Africa was placed under.

However, the vaccinology expert said public behaviour would have a bearing on how soon and how hard the third wave hits.

“As we head into the cooler months of the year in May/June, people are more likely to gather indoors, in poorly ventilated spaces… It’s going to lead to an increase in transmission of the virus.”

Ramaphosa warned that the threat of a third wave of COVID-19 remains constantly present.

“The threat of a third wave is constantly present as is a threat of yet new variants.”

 

SA’s jobless grows to 7.2m

By Siphelele Dludla for IOL

South Africa’s unemployment rate increased by 1.7 percentage points to an unprecedented 32.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared from 30.8 percent in the previous quarter.

This is the highest jobless rate since the start of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) in 2008, with more people entering the labour market and actively looking for jobs.

The unemployment rate according to the expanded definition of unemployment, however, decreased by 0.5 of a percentage point to 42.6 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) said that the number of unemployed persons increased by 701 000 to 7.2 million compared to the third quarter of 2020.

StatsSA said the number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 235 000, or 8.7 percent.

The number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement decreased by 1.1m between the two quarters, resulting in a net decrease of 890 000 in the not economically active population.

The QLFS also showed that the number of employed persons increased by 333 000 to 15 million in the fourth quarter of 2020

StatsSA said this resulted in an increase of 1 million in the number of people in the labour force.

The statistics agency said employment increased in all sectors in the fourth quarter, with formal and informal sector employment, private households and agriculture all recording positive outcomes.

The formal sector in South Africa accounts for 69.9 percent of total employment.

StatsSA said that trade, construction and agriculture had higher employment shares relative to their gross domestic product (GDP) contribution.

Employment increased in all industries, except finance and mining, with community and social services, construction recording the most gains.

 

Sandton City sees a spike in luxury purchases

By Londiwe Buthelezi for Fin24

The owner of Sandton City says footfall at the country’s premier shopping centre recovered to 87% of pre-lockdown levels on weekends in October.

Its other big malls, such as Eastgate in the East Rand and Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg are recording more customer visits on weekends than they did before the lockdown.

And what have people been frequenting the malls for? Looking at retailers’ turnover in Liberty Two Degrees’ malls, they have been shopping for luxury and tech goods, as well as more obvious grocery and supermarket items.

In fact, luxury brands contributed 8.1% towards total turnover at L2D malls even though they only account for less than 1% of mall space. The rapid recovery in demand for luxury brands is defying expectations in a country where over 43% of people are now unemployed if you include discouraged jobseekers after 2.2 million more people lost their jobs in the third quarter.

But a 10 point improvement in consumer confidence in the three months to end-September – after it reached a 33-year low in June as shown by the FNB/BER Consumer Confidence Index – was perhaps a telling sign that those who still have the ability to spend will gradually go back to their shopping habits.

L2D said the recovery for luxury brands was driven by domestic demand.

But while people are out shopping for luxury items again, they aren’t yet flocking to hotels. L2D said the Sandton Sun hotel is currently the only hotel in its portfolio that is operational. But its occupancy rate still stood at 30.9% in September, 10 percentage points above the 20.9% recorded in August.

The Sandton Intercontinental Towers, Garden Court and the Convention Centre have been closed since March 2020. But it’s not only hotels that are giving L2D a headache. The company said vacancies across its property portfolio increased again from 6.1% in August 2020 to 7.6% in October. Office vacancies increased to 15.1% by the end of October 2020, with Melrose Arch being the most affected.

“The effects of Covid-19 continue to drive the downsizing of office space,” wrote L2D in a trading update released on Friday.

The retail vacancy rate also continued to increase with Eastgate Mall being the largest contributor. But the company said its team had secured leases for further 900 square metres of space, which will reduce the Eastgate’s vacancy from 7.0% to 6.3% in the fourth quarter.

Image credit: Michael Turner

Source: Eyewitness News

Master KG’s Jerusalema was the sound of 2020. It was the song that launched countless homemade challenge videos and even found its way into a presidential address last September.

“There can be no better way to celebrate our South Africanness than joining the global phenomenon that is spreading across the world, and that is the _Jerusalema_ dance challenge. So I urge all of you to take up this challenge.” – President Cyril Ramaphosa, 16 September 2020

Many South Africans and others across the world took up the challenge. Workplaces got involved and people marshalled their kids to join in, posting their videos on social media.

Type “Jerusalema challenge” into YouTube and the results go on for pages. The official music video has clocked over 344 million views on YouTube. Master KG bagged the Best African Act award at the MTV European Music Awards, beating Nigerian superstars Burna Boy and Rema among others.

News in the past few days that Warner International sent royalty invoices to various video posters in Germany sparked an outcry on social media – and just a little bit of panic.

The music giant charged various German government entities for using the song in their versions of the challenge. So what does that mean for us? Can anyone who filled some bored downtime during lockdown perfecting the moves and sharing their effort expect a bill for their troubles?

Eyewitness News spoke to Dumisani Motsamai, an entertainment lawyer and the man who takes care of legal and business affairs for Open Mic Productions – that’s Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode’s record label.

He said some people took the challenge on for their own gains.

“We have followed the news that Warner, our partners internationally, has actually been taken to task by many people on social media saying ‘you guys are being greedy, ‘we are doing this thing because of social [distancing], we are all down because of COVID’, and I think it’s quite on point. But there’ve been different versions of this challenge. There are situations where a child and their family are in their living room and they are doing the challenge, or they are outside and doing the challenge. That’s perfectly fine. But we have seen these challenges taking it a little bit too far, where really, what has been happening here is that people have been pushing their brands,” he said.

Companies and brands using the song to enhance their own social capital is the problem Open Mic will also be targeting, he said.

“I saw brands where you would see a drone showing a view of a company yard, then you will see their workshop, they dish out products, they make sure they give you a picture of every product they sell. The song is playing in the background, and because it is playing in the background, now I have an interest in seeing what this particular company is doing,” he said. “If it’s for private use and has nothing to do with commercialising the song, in other words, using the song in order to exploit the brand, in order to make a specific brand visible, there is totally nothing wrong with that.”

Picking out the companies and brands taking advantage of the feel-good song in between people who are using it for a bit of fun isn’t cut and dried, he said.

“There has been a thin line. Some of them will show maybe their logo at the beginning and it’s all about the dance. But some of them when you look at them, it’s all about the brand, the company that is doing the challenge and little about the challenge. Those are the ones that Warner and Open Mic has found. If the challenge is taken and someone is dancing with their family, individually, and has nothing to do with brand endorsement, has nothing to do with using the song to push a particular brand and put the brand in the face of people with the song in the background, then that’s fine.”

So what constitutes a brand or an advert? Presumably, those heart-warming videos of frontline healthcare workers at taking up the challenge won’t be targeted.

“Those are the critical examples that we will certainly not go after. You can see they were using it within the context of uplifting spirits during difficult times and within the confines of the call that was made by the president,” he said.

So if you did it for fun or to lift the nation’s spirits, you’re good. But if you used the music to shill for business, not so much. Motsamai said Open Mic was looking at local examples of brands exploiting the song and will request payment from them too, just as Warner International has done. While he didn’t have an exact number of companies they were going after, he did say there were “quite a few”.

“We will start politely [asking for fees] locally because we have seen there has been a lot of skipping of the line. We do owe it, not just to Open Mic, but to the people who were part of it. [Open Mic] owns the master, but we also have a duty to pay royalties to the people whose sound is embedded, whose performance is in the master, and in this case it is Master KG and Nomcebo,” Motsamai explained.

He also explained how royalties were due when a song was used for commercial outcomes.

“There’s royalties that, as Open Mic, we pay arising from synchronisation licences. So it is upon us to ensure that we pursue this instance and make sure that some or other kind of licensing is paid so that we can pay them as well. Yes, it’s income that comes to us as master owners, but it’s also income we have an obligation with our artists to pay over.”

It’s worth remembering that all the artists who make this music have to eat too. It’s been a very rough ride for their community as global lockdowns wiped opportunities off the board for them.

So if you took up the challenge, herded your kids into formation and posted the results online, you’re not going to get a hefty bill – or any bill – for that matter.

Image credit: Open Source Productions

The evolution of retail in a post-pandemic world

The rhetoric of ‘retail is dead’ is incorrect. In fact, retail is advancing at a rapid rate to meet the consumer demands for in-store innovation and service solutions for their shopping requirements in this post-Covid era.

This was the view of industry thought leaders who participated in the Fortress Retail Evolution webinar that took place recently. This online event was hosted by Mike Stopforth and included a panel discussion between Vuso Majija, Alex Morar, Tshiamo Mathibela and Richard Mukheibir, as well as commentary from other retail experts.

A key insight shared by Graeme Codrington is that the pandemic has accelerated a lot of the trends that were already underway. “E-commerce is one of the biggest trends at this time, but it’s not merely about putting your products online and then hoping somebody buys them. It is not competition to traditional retail; it extends and expands traditional retail. You need to develop relationships with your consumers and then personalise your connection with them through the right in-store experiences that gives them reasons to keep coming back– it’s not just sales.”

When discussing the innovations that are in play at this time, Vuso Majija explained how the tenant mixes are evolving and changing in response to changes in customer behaviour. “Pre-Covid-19, we saw space consolidation by tenants, including the closure of non-performing stores. For example, banks closed branches and Edgars closed certain stores. On the other hand, certain retail categories including grocers, pharmacies, and athleisure tenants were opening new stores. This is directly because shoppers were focusing on essential items, health and beauty products and changes in clothing preferences.”

“Our biggest challenge as landlords at this time isn’t omni-channel retail, it’s economic growth. There is appetite from small and large retailers to open stores, but the current economic situation is the main hindrance,” commented Majija.

SMEs are key drivers of economic growth in the country, which is the area where landlords are hoping to attract new tenants to shopping centres. “Both large and small partners are looking for space – it’s not all doom and gloom. Our priority this year is to try and accommodate as many of those opportunities as possible,” added Majija.

Richard Mukheibir supported these views, saying, “As a franchise business, we couldn’t sell franchises during hard lockdown in our usual face-to-face manner. Our sales model changed to weekly webinars and within a month, I had spoken to more than 100 people about franchising. Subsequently, we have sold 11 franchises as at the end of January. There are now more stores, but the size of the stores has reduced, with lower overheads and in turn, more profit. This proved how discomfort has resulted in interesting, innovative solutions that led to growth.”

Bathu Shoes have directly contributed to economic growth by opening twelve stores during 2020, despite the pandemic and its difficulties. Tshiamo Mathibela shared her views on how this emerging business overcame their challenges: “We don’t have a blueprint for the way we do things. Instead, we focus on innovation and customer experience. For the new stores, we paid a lot of attention to in-store design elements which have technological features that engage our customers as they approach the store – for example, the levitating sneaker machine makes the shoes look like they are floating. We consider the music we play, the images we use and fragrances we have in stores in detail. Most importantly, our engagement with customers through trained sales executives in a safe manner that makes customers feel secure in store. Furthermore, we built South Africa’s first sneaker customisation lab as an extension of customer engagement.”

The conversation around offline or online, this binary notion of one or the other, seems to be fading into obscurity. Retailers are looking to landlords to aid and advice in giving their customers a more seamless omni-channel experience. Alex Morar, CEO of NEPI Rockcastle, commented on how this has played out in the Central and Eastern European region: “We will never go back to the way things were, but that is always the case. Circumstances and operations continuously evolve and there is not a “one size fits all, all the time” strategy that we can apply. Landlords and retailers are part of one ecosystem. We need to work together to provide the best retail experience for our customers and partners. Landlords need to make sure shopping centres are attractive, well located and that the entire tenant mix is advertised. By integrating the various retailers’ concepts into digital advertising, we can ensure we are where the customers are searching. We need to have a joint strategy to approach this omni-channel experience.”

Retailers have realised that customer experience is only as strong as its weakest link. When the retail ecosystem works together to provide operational excellence, it benefits the customers. Most importantly, paying attention to what customers need and the level of human interaction that people are looking for was they come out of lockdown.

Majija made the point that customer experience does not start with the sales executive in store. “It starts with the car guard in the parking area and includes everyone in the shopping centre environment. The entire ecosystem must provide a great experience. Upskilling all staff to interact with customers will increase the interactions and will add to the overall shopping experience.”

It is a known fact that consumer behaviour is dictating most of the changes that have been implemented in recent months. The number one priority for customers is convenience. Majija related how Fortress partnered with a company that focused on Click and Collect. This company opened booths at many of the Fortress centres and there are plans to open more booths this year. In addition, Takealot opened a depot at Pineslopes. “We have seen a massive increase in delivery services like Uber Eats at a number of our centres, especially those with lots of restaurants and fast-food outlets”.

Mukheibir discussed the trend of people thinking about the trend of reuse, recycle and repurpose and wanting to live a more nomadic and agile existence. “This trend is playing really well into our hands. People are selling unwanted items in a professional retail environment and others are buying those items at half the price with a six-month guarantee. The idea of “value shopping” is increasingly mainstream, fast-forwarded as a consequence of Covid, a re-evaluation of priorities and financial spend, and the sad reality of change in employment status.”

Morar is looking forward to the continued progress of retail innovation in multi-channel retail strategy. “We are optimising our operations using revolutionary technology. The end goal is to offer a better service to our final customers. It does not sound like a big deal, but the detail behind it is substantial. The faster and the better that we do this, both us and the retailers, the more we will be able to provide the adequate experience and bring products to the end customers via multiple channels, not just physical or just online.”

Mathibela added that her team is excited about proving that traditional retail is still alive and kicking. “Because South Africa still struggles with high data costs and people not wanting to share their personal details online, they are frequenting shopping centres. We are going to continue to expand our footprint and conduct research into other engaging features to put into these stores. Our biggest goal for 2021 is become even more accessible by tapping into the smaller communities that other retailers don’t think about.”

Majija reiterated that the shopping centre industry in South Africa accounts for about 72% of all retail. “That’s approximately R780 billion per year. It is an important industry and employer. We must keep growing and expanding the retail industry. It is a massive contributor to service delivery and to the provision of services and products in South Africa. All we need now, is the economic recovery and growth to improve so that we can see the retailers opening more stores and consumers get what they want and need too.”

 

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