Identifying optimum mall sites in African cities - a case study of Lusaka, Zambia

The development of malls in African cities are critically important in the creation of jobs. For example, the super regional shopping centre, Mall of Africa in Midrand, South Africa, has created 4 500 permanent jobs. This excludes the secondary jobs created in industries supporting the different retail sectors represented in the Mall of Africa. Malls can play an important role in African cities by contributing to their socio-economic development.

The Mall of Africa has also generated sales in excess of R3.5 billion, thus contributing significantly to the economy of South Africa. Over and above the job creation and economic benefits of malls, they also provide the ever increasing populations of African countries, especially the middle class, with much needed consumer goods. They also play an important role in giving people a glimpse of the potential development of African cities in the future.

The development of malls in African countries must learn the hard lessons being learnt in South Africa where there has been the over subscribing of malls in certain higher per capita suburbs. This has resulted in the juxtaposing of malls of different sizes against one another. As a consequence, smaller malls have suffered because of the building of super regional malls in their trade area, resulting in economic downturns for many of them. They in turn have had to reposition themselves in the marketplace by diversifying their retail mix and increasing their size to ensure a greater gravitational pull of customers to them.

This is in contrast to the many cities in African countries that are experiencing economic growth in excess of 4%. The cities have start to develop malls but it is likely that there is still opportunity for more malls of different sizes to be build. A case study was done in Lusaka, Zambia to test the use of accessibility modelling methods in looking at the optimum location of malls in this large African city. Accessibility modelling requires access to population statistics at the most detailed level as well as road infrastructure. Distance matrices can then be created across the road network taking travel speeds and mode of transport into consideration.

Suitability maps can then be created to show where high potential areas are for the locating of malls. Suitability maps take into consideration the capacity in the target market required to ensure the financial viability of the mall. The target market could be the total population, the economically active population or the population earning more than a particular income. It also takes into consideration the optimum travel time for customers to reach the mall. The suitability map of Lusaka below shows where the largest concentration of people within the smallest area are (red areas).

The suitability map allows one to overlay the location of existing malls to see how suitably located they are. All the existing malls fall within the high suitability red zone. The next question is - of the existing malls, which are the best located? Using the Classification Standards of the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) one can use their population and average travel time parameters to identify the optimum Greenfield sites in Lusaka. Whether the access norms for the SACSC are appropriate for cities in different African countries or not, will still need to be determined.

The results of the accessibility modelling shows that there is potential for only one super regional shopping centre in Lusaka. None of the existing malls are located near this site. There are potential sites for 3 regional shopping centres with Levy Junction being located near the best site. The other two sites have no malls located nearby.

There is potential sites for 4 small regional shopping centres with Levy Junction again being near the prime sites and the Carousel Shopping Centre being near the 3rd best site. The two other small shopping centre sites have no existing shopping malls near them. Five sites for community centres are identified with Levy Junction being close to the prime site. The fifth best community centre site is situated near the Embassy Mall, Makeni Mall and Cosmopolitan Mall to the south-west of central Lusaka. Three other community centre sites are located on the eastern side of Lusaka.

Five community centre sites are identified with the prime site being near where the Carousel Shopping Centre is located. One community centre site is located to the north of central Lusaka and the other three are situated to the south-east. The map below shows the position of these different sized malls (multi-coloured pins). The key to this accessibility modelling exercise is to ensure that the identifying of new mall sites of different sizes have sufficient customers within the shortest distance for them to be financially viable. Ideally, they should be situated so that they do not compete with existing malls and they can maximize the economic and job creation benefits.

The reality is that different mall owners want to maximize their return on investment and in so doing, they don't care if they cannibalize other malls. This could be to the detriment of African cities and therefore the government should play some role in regulating the number and location of malls. Finally, it has been shown that accessibility modelling can be used to identify optimum malls sites in African cities and there is much potential for new malls.