Grit, an African property investor which trades on the London stock exchange, plans to adapt shopping malls in Zambia and Mozambique to allow click and collect shopping, says Veenhuis. COVID-19 travel restrictions are slowing the plans, which need country visits to implement, but Veenhuis hopes the plans will be carried out within 18 months.
Grit’s tenants have to pay their rents in hard currency. For the company’s blue-chip multinationals, that’s not a problem. Grit doesn’t hedge on currencies due to the cost, and retail – which makes up about 25% of the portfolio – is the only sector where currency risk is borne by the tenant. That makes finding more profitable ways of using retail space a strategic priority.
Whether click and collect is profitable will in part depend on whether customers will pay in advance. Last-mile delivery costs and customer resistance to paying until they see the goods are obstacles for African e-commerce retailers such as Jumia, which has yet to make a profit. Grit’s strategy is betting that a person who comes to a pick-up point at a mall is more likely to complete a purchase than someone who has simply browsed and clicked at home.
- The cost of trying to find customers in the absence of formal address systems is avoided.
- Veenhuis says that even if the click and collect purchase is not collected, the goods are now at a central point which is already receiving footfall and from which they can be sold without further cost.
- The plan is to redeploy land adjacent to shopping malls for warehouses where purchases can be collected.
COVID-19 has highlighted the need to change the African retail space use, says Veenhuis. The purely retail mall concept “can’t work” in Africa, which was already oversupplied with malls before COVID-19, he argues.
- The click and collect model, he says, is the “hybrid stepping stone” that African retail needs before it can progress to full e-commerce.
- “Final-mile delivery doesn’t work yet,” says Veenhuis. “The solution hasn’t yet been found.”
- Only minor capital expenditure for will be needed for the repurposing, he adds.
Development finance funding
In Zambia, Grit owns 50% of the Cosmopolitan Mall in Lusaka, where tenants include Shoprite and Edgars & Game. It also owns all of the Mukuba Mall in Kitwe, which hosts Pick n Pay, and a 50% stake in the Kafubu Mall in Ndola. In Mozambique, Grit has 100% of Zimpeto Square in Maputo, and Mall de Tete.
Grit currently doesn’t have any healthcare properties, but Veenhuis expects that they will come to account for 10% to 15% of the portfolio. “Strip malls are becoming more mixed use,” and health centres may be part of that, he says. “Standalone retail space is not the way forward” in Africa.
- Tenants are still willing to sign long-term contracts for services and logistics property, which is a growth area, Veenhuis says.
- Data centres are also a source of predictable revenue streams, he adds.
Meanwhile, Grit is in “advanced talks” with development finance institutions to obtain debt and equity financing to help fund expansion of the asset base, Veenhuis says, declining to give an amount. Grit aims to secure the funding within three to six months.
COVID-19 is set to permanently change the face of African shopping malls.
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