By Dr Dirk A Prinsloo
Urban Studies

To get a benchmark for centres in South Africa is not always possible, mainly because of the lack of comparative data. How does the dwell time of the shoppers supporting my centre compare with other similar type centres elsewhere in South Africa? Are there any actions that could be taken to bring my centre closer to the benchmark for similar size and type centres? These are only a few questions that could be asked to get a better understanding of a particular centre at a specific location.

This article on benchmarking forms part of a series of annual reports by the South African Council of Shopping Centre on a variety of centre performance and economic indicators. This information is based on surveys conducted at a large number of shopping centres countrywide by Urban Studies since 1998. The following indicators are reflected in this report:

  • Frequency of visits;
  • Dwell time;
  • Average drive time to a centre and
  • the loyalty factor,

The majority of the centres included in this Benchmark Report, are located in various parts of the main metropolitan areas as well as in smaller and larger cities. A clear distinction is also drawn between ordinary shopping centres and value centres mainly because of the different role and function played by value centres.

The frequency on a particular centre is supported, clearly reflects the role and function of that centre aand is largely determined by the tenant mix.
From Graph 1 it is clear that shopping centres smaller than 10 000m² as well as those between 10 000m² and 30 000m² have weekly and more regular visits by shoppers from the immediate vicinity of between ±65% to ±80%. These centres are to a large extent supported for their anchor grocery stores which contribute to a higher level of weekly or more frequent support. Centres between 30 000m² and 50 000m² as well as between 50 000m² and 100 000m² are supported by ±65%of their shoppers on a weekly basis.

Large super regional centres of >100 000m² are supported less frequently than the regional centres with a weekly support of ±50%.


As expected, the weekly visits decline as the size of the centre increases. (See Graph 2) Some of the smaller neighbourhood centres is supported by up to 88% of their customers on a weekly basis. In a case like this the absence of strong competition is clearly reflected. Previous surveys indicated that on average of 2 different grocery stores were visited on a monthly basis by mainly female shoppers during 1993. This figure has now increased to more than 4 grocery stores visited per month by females as well as by an increasing number of male shoppers.

The high level of support for community, small regional and regional centres are also associated with the presence of grocery stores as part of their tenant mix. The situation for value centres is totally different with much lower weekly and monthly visits. The average weekly support for value centres is in line with that of a super regional centre (48%).



Shopping centres smaller than 10 000m² have shown a decrease in dwell time from ±44 minutes in the early 2000’s to 30 minutes in 2009. This clearly indicates the level of competition of convenience centres within the same primary trade area. There are more visits per week but with a much shorter dwell time (See Graph 3).

Convenience shopping is nowadays not only parking close to the main grocery store for a quick in and out trip. Convenience shopping has become much more complex because of time pressure, more households with spouses working, longer working hours, changes in lifestyle and in most cases higher disposable income.

Convenience centres therefore also focuses on longer trading hours (grocery stores stay open until 20:00 or 21:00) and the availability of prepared food (not only fast food but also cooked meals). There are, for example, grocery stores in central Johannesburg where more than 600 grilled chickens are sold per day. Business hours play a very important role in the success of convenience stores. In the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, some of the grocery stores and shopping centres close at 18:00, while other newer centres in the same area close at 20:00. Centres with longer business hours are busy and parking areas are packed throughout the evening until 20:00.

The average (The average in all cases is longer than the median indicating a positive skewed answer. This means that a number of shoppers visited for a longer period.) dwell time for centres between 10 000m² and 30 000m² is 60 minutes, showing a slight increase since 2000. Shopping centres between 30 000m² and 50 000m² have a dwell time of 81 minutes, which decreased slightly since 2000 from an average dwell time of 100 minutes.

The average time spent at regional malls of between 50 000m² and 100 000m² is 98 minutes, while the time spent at super regional centres are still 120 minutes. This is a reflection of the role and function of a super regional centre.

Large scale entertainment should mainly be offered at large regional and super regional centres.



The time spent driving to centres has increased over the past 10 years and this can be attributed to the increase in traffic volumes, road construction and more traffic lights.

Small community centres 100 000m².




The loyalty factor is based on the number of visits to a specific centre compared to the last 10 visits to any other similar size centre. A high level of competition reflects a low loyalty factor, while no competition reflects a high loyalty factor. Smaller centres have the lowest loyalty factor, while regional centres reflect the highest loyalty factor. It is also interesting to note that most of the super regional centres are surrounded by a number of larger size centres, resulting in a lower loyalty factor.

In most cases 6 out 10 visits are to the same centre with another 4 visits to competing centres of the same size. Centres with lower loyalty ratings include specialist centres, value centres, large entertainment centres and centres located in metropolitan CBDs. Value Centres only has a loyalty factor of 4.2 indicating strong competition as well as the role and function of these type centres.

Loyalty Factor (visits out of last 10 visits)



Most of these benchmarks show very consistent trends. It is however, necessary to update this information on a regular basis to indicate major trend changes at a particular point in time. Deviations from the abovementioned trend lines could be ascribed to local market conditions, the level of competition, service levels, the presence/absence of major national anchor tenants and macro-economic influences.