Advice and Opinion

Retailers and malls need to be open longer to boost retail sales

Marius Muller, CEO of Pareto.

“For retailers to make sales, their doors need to be open for longer”. That’s the word from Marius Muller, CEO of leading shopping centre investor Pareto.

Modern South African lifestyles have changed, with a myriad of pressures resulting in many of us being time-poor. Muller believes the opening hours of many malls and retailers still lag behind the modern lifestyles of the consumers that support them.

“It’s time for this to change. It is important for malls and retailers to see the big picture when it comes to being open for shoppers. The times that many people can visit the shops have changed,” says Muller.

There are retail brands and malls that are leading the way in putting shoppers’ hectic schedules first. Muller points to Edcon as being the front-runner for giving South African longer shopping hours.

“Edcon saw the bigger picture years ago and responded to the needs of South African shoppers whose jobs, families, commutes and other time priorities made it impossible to shop during traditional retail hours,” says Muller. “Edgars and Jet were often the only stores open in a mall, long after every other shop doors had closed.”

Over the past decade or so, more retailers have responded to the change in modern lifestyle by extending their shopping hours, including Woolworths, Checkers, Pick n Pay and Mr Price.

But, Muller says that many malls and retailers still don’t fully appreciate the massive change in contemporary lifestyles.

He points out many regional shopping centres, which are among our largest and most popular malls, still have standard minimum shopping hours until an early 6pm. While that may have been pioneering 20 years ago, today it doesn’t make the cut for many consumers.

“It simply isn’t a commercially minded model. Stores need to be open when shoppers can visit them,” says Muller.

He uses the example of a parent who works until 5pm, then navigates through peak hour traffic to collect their children from after-school care. Only after this is done can they consider going to shop. But, by then, it’s 6pm and the mall is shut, so they simply don’t bother to go. Or, if they desperately make it there before 6pm, they are greeted by doors closing in their face and are lucky to spend a few minutes in a single store, resulting in a poor experience.

Then, there are the many consumers who work unconventional hours, and those who only finish work later than the outdated shopping hours. These people represent many groups from top executives and professionals to nursery school teachers and taxi-drivers.

Muller believes that malls and retailers should be smarter about their shopping hours if they want to sustain and grow their sales, especially with the South African consumer under significant and mounting pressure. “The point is that to make the sale, you need to be open for shoppers when they are able to shop,” he explains.

While Muller concedes it isn’t always feasible to stay open as late as 9pm, he is convinced that, with today’s modern lifestyles, closing before 7pm isn’t in the best interest of most regional malls, retailers or shoppers.

He also emphasises a smart approach to opening hours. “Being open later for shoppers doesn’t necessarily mean opening longer. It could mean opening the store a little later in the morning.”

Muller adds modern trading hours won’t necessarily be the same for all retailers and shopping centres. “It’s a case of horses for courses. It comes down to knowing your customer, understanding how they live, work and play, and what times are most convenient for them to shop with you. It also means that retailers and malls need to work together to find their optimal opening times. This means being open to being open at different times, and trying new approaches,” says Muller. “It means looking at the big picture, and the good news is that more and more retailers and malls are finally getting it.”