Why snow in summer still equals Christmas in South African malls
Christmas shoppers respond best to winter themed malls and as temperatures hit 30 degrees outside, inside they will discover a winter wonderland, says QZ.com.
As Boney M’s ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ plays through mall speakers, shoppers come face-to-face with snow laden Christmas trees, reindeer and Santa Claus.
But QZ poses a question over this seasonal disparity, and South Africa’s diversity: For retailers, what does African Christmas decor even look like? And what might get South Africans to dip into their wallets to buy the latest toys and trinkets to put under their Christmas trees?
In the two decades since apartheid ended, South Africa’s consumer class has grown rapidity. In the days when malls catered to the country’s minority white, Christian middle class, fake snow-flecked windows, and towering Christmas trees became the norm, says QZ.
But even as the country’s consumer base has become more diverse and sophisticated, Western visions of Christmas still appear to be a huge draw to the country’s malls.
For mall managers, this wholehearted embrace of using decor, sound, and smells, to put people in the mood to shop, has taken on an even greater importance as consumers tighten their belts because of the slowing economy.
QZ spoke with The Magic Christmas Co. (TMCC), which has been decorating malls and shopping centres in South Africa for 30 years, working to keep up with changing tastes and malls’ desire to accommodate more religious and cultural groups. Planning starts in February for some of the biggest malls in South Africa and installations start in the first two weeks of October.
While malls like The Glen in Johnannesburg reflect traditional themes, TMCC co-owner Jan Griesel says there has been a growing effort in the last 15 years to recognise local traditions. These range from using Ndebele prints to replace ribbon, a giant decorated baobab tree instead of a fir tree. “What we’re trying to do is incorporate more local people to produce more local things, so we can put it it together in one statement,” Griesel tells QZ.
What hasn’t changed, Griesel says, is expectations that malls be decorated come Christmas. “They do demand it actually; if you don’t do it, then there’s a problem,” he says. And malls are generally happy to comply, even though the effect of this decor on sales can be hard to measure.
Johannesburg-based CPS Promotions has had such success with their business decorating malls that its owners, Veta and Bevin Masters, have opened their own small factory so they can manufacture pieces instead of importing them. They employ nearly 30 permanent staff and the number jumps to about 100 as Christmas planning ramps up around June.
Some malls have tried to strike the balance between South African and western traditions, but looking around the country’s malls today, it seems like white Christmas is here to stay.
At Southgate mall in Johannesburg, which serves South Africa’s largest black township, Soweto, decorators tried to move toward a more African theme by having six-foot-tall baobab and acacia trees made of wire greeting visitors at the mall’s entrances. Still, most of the mall’s décor harkens to the northern hemisphere’s December. Naked branches made of wire frames and draped with yellow fairy lights hang throughout the mall, and rows of fairy lights drip from the malls balconies, reminiscent of icicles.