By Londiwe Buthelezi for News24
In the few months before South Africa went into adjusted lockdown level 4 this year, people shopped more in Sandton City than they did in 2019.
The high-end mall started showing above-expectation recovery numbers every time the government eased lockdown restrictions in 2020. In March 2021, its owner, Liberty Two Degrees (L2D), reported that it recorded its best March in five years.
April and May delivered the same out-performance, L2D’s half-year results showed. L2D will share the mall’s June and July turnover growth in a trading update at a later stage.
In April, Sandton City’s turnover was 4.8% more than the mall recorded in April 2019. In May, its turnover was 14.5% ahead.
The Botshabelo Mall in Bloemfontein also far exceeded 2019 benchmarks on those months, and the Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg was ahead of 2019 in May.
“From a foot count point of view, Sandton’s May better than it was in 2019, which starts to indicate that it bounces back very quickly,” said L2D CEO Amelia Beattie.
“It’s an incredibly resilient asset, and it also has a very loyal customer base,” she added.
She said even with offices in Sandton City not back to their full capacity and the Sandton Convention Centre hardly a hive of activity for over a year now, weekday activity in the malls has not died. As for weekends, Sandton City appears to have held its own as a preferred shopping destination, and not just for seekers of luxury items anymore.
“Because Sandton offers so many unique things, people come from everywhere to go to Sandton because it’s an outing, it’s an experience,” said Beattie.
Sales of luxury brands in L2D’s malls have delivered double-digit growth every quarter since Q3 2020. In April and May 2021, they were respectively 84% and 88% ahead of 2019. But turnover for groceries, apparel and technology was also ahead of 2019 before SA went back to level 4 lockdown.
Beattie said luxury brands did so well because the Covid-19 lockdowns have not financially impacted that particular target market. She said even international trends, when looking at sales figures from companies like Louis Vuitton, suggest that consumers are consistently spending on luxury brands.
“There are not thousands of these retailers in the country. It is in one place…Also, we’ve done some good work bringing more international retailers into the Diamond Walk,” she said.
Adidas recently opened its Halo flagship store in Sandton City, which promises an exclusive retail experience comparable to the brand’s other flagship stores in New York, London, Paris, Dubai, Beijing and Tokyo.
Alexander McQueen will soon open shop there, a first in SA. Other luxury brands are moving from their current spaces to open bigger stores within Sandton City. They plan to bring kids’ offerings to their old shops.
“We still see some demand from tenants wanting to come in, and that will support the trade in the Diamond Walk,” said Beattie.
The other businesses in the Sandton City complex – that is, the Convention Centre, Nelson Mandela Square and the hotels – still have not recovered from the initial lockdown slump, save for Sandton Sun, which started trading again in 2020.
“If you went to the Sandton Sun any weekend afternoon, from four o’clock, the queue snakes down the passage to get on to the deck. People love experiences; they love going there.”