The future of shopping in Africa: Malls

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

From Accra, through Lagos, Nairobi, to Cape Town, the way of shopping for the middle class is being revolutionized. The days of the open market will soon be a thing of the past. Malls are taking over from open markets. In major cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, real estate developers are building regional malls to cater to the shopping needs of the middle class. Enclosed malls with clean floors, metal or steel shelves glass doors are competing strongly with the open markets that we have been used to.

Growing up in Ghana, I shopped at Kaneshie, Makola and Sukura Markets for grocery and personal items. At these markets, the sellers, predominantly women, displayed their wares on tables under sheds. Some sellers also put their items like vegetables in baskets and placed them on the ground. One could hear the screams of the women calling in a number of local languages to get the attention of shoppers. Sometimes I returned from the market with different kinds of scents on my body or even my clothes soiled with palm oil or juices from tomatoes. These were the pleasures and hazards of going to the open market.

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the middle class is growing in number and in their purchasing power. With increased income comes a demand for a corresponding “NEW” way of life. The shopping malls are fast becoming the “new” way of life for the middle class in Africa. This “New” way of life manifests in forms such as wearing internationally branded clothes, shoes, dressing accessories, home appliances, electronic gadgets etc.

And these are the items that the emerging shopping malls are offering the Sub-Sahara African middle class. Mall shopping is fast becoming a status symbol. For example in Ghana, it is becoming trendy for young men to take their girl friends to the Accra mall to score points.

Developers are tapping into this growing interest, and developing shopping malls across most capital cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the mall developments are led by real estate developers ambitious to capitalize on improved investment opportunities, while some are also initiated by established retailers who desire to expand into other countries.

This is especially interesting as an example of multi-national property development in Africa, mainly financed from Southern Africa. While this phenomenon has not reached the affordable housing sector  – yet. As the commercial and luxury markets become more crowded, there might well be business knowledge transfers from these companies into the residential sector.

While their prestige is declining in the developed world, shopping malls seems to be the trend in Africa, and it appears they have come to stay. Given the rate at which malls are springing up on the continent, it is only a matter of time that the malls will supplant the open markets. Whether this is a good thing or otherwise will be judged by posterity.

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