…Youths also search for love, as parents comb stores conveniently
By Kemi Yesufu, Amaka Agu and Gilbert Ejembi
New residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would not believe it, but those who moved in some years ago would recall that they went as far as Suleja in neighouring Niger State to shop for events and even stock their homes and offices with goods.
However, on the return of democracy in 1999, the Federal Capital Development Agency (FCDA) in response to the population boom, built markets and what is popularly known as corner-shops as part of residential estates in different parts of Abuja. But today, like many other cities that have experienced rapid growth in infrastructure and population, Abuja has become a location where, with money or debit card, you can purchase just about anything or pay for services at cool and sophisticated places.
Suffice to say that Abuja has been invaded by local and international hypermarket brands and names like Shoprite, Spar, NEXT, Sahad Stores and Game easily come to mind for shoppers. Also, the federal capital has become home to mega shopping malls that make consumers think twice before hopping on the next flight out of the country. In places that can be called high streets in Abuja’s upscale districts such as Maitama, Wuse 2, Asokoro and other parts of the city like Garki and Gwarimpa, there are two or three big malls with glitzy stores dealing in fashion, electronics, phones and other communication devices. These malls also host some of the popular eateries, upscale restaurants and a few pubs.
Though traders in Wuse, Utako, Garki and other markets in Abuja have managed to stay afloat, they are beginning to feel the pinch of losing some of their old customers to the hypermarket brands that have branches strategically located in the capital city. The traders also have to compete with online shopping portals heavily patronised by a large number of residents.
Nedu Johnson, a boutique owner in Wuse market, told Abuja Metro: “For us that deal in ladies wears, we have found a way to remain relevant. But those that are not finding things easy are the people dealing in cosmetics, foodstuffs, handsets, computers and electronics. They are really struggling to retain customers.”
The not- so- cheery news for traders in the traditional markets is that they may have to work harder to keep their customers and stay in business in the near future because checks by Abuja Metro revealed that some of the hypermarket brands plan to open more branches in Abuja.
Speaking with Abuja Metro at the recent re-opening of a Spar branch, the Marketing Manager of the group, John Goldsmith, said Nigeria was still far behind considering the number of hypermarket branches in the country. “We represent the modern retail experience and when you talk about modern retail branching, what you have in Nigeria is still negligible. Take South Africa for instance, it has 880 plus Spar branches. But in Nigeria which is almost four times the size of South Africa, we have eight branches. So, we have a largely untapped market in Nigeria which we think is worth investing in”, he said.
But what makes these malls attractive to shoppers? The first word they readily mention is “convenience”. Hear Nkechi Azubuike, a senior civil servant, who patronises any hypermarket of her choice after office work: “I do not have a problem with the regular markets, but they would have closed while I am still at work and when I leave the office, I head to any of the supermarkets where I think I can get a good deal for the things I want to buy.”
Another resident, Grace Maji, who spoke to Abuja Metro at the Jabi Lake mall, shot down the view that only the well-off buy things at malls. According to Maji, her many runs at the mall are easy and stress- free even when she comes with her children. The middle- aged teacher stated that she re-stocks her home at weekends. She spoke of her choice of shopping place: “It is fun shopping here as everything is on display under one roof. You do not need to buy one thing and then go to another shop for another thing.
“It is very convenient for me to shop for everything in this cool atmosphere. For me, the fact that I can pick just about everything on my shopping list in one location without having to trek under the sun like we do in the market is key to my coming to places like this.”
Also, Shetu Abu, who lives in Life Camp, said malls are the place for her because she buys in bulk. She noted that shopping malls are made for bulk purchasing. “From my experience, it is easy to buy goods in bulk in shopping malls like this one.
You do not have to bother about the sun or the rain. In some cases, the management of the shopping center delivers the goods at your address. Also, I have had good bargains on bulk purchases and this makes me return here whenever it is time to re-stock”, she said.
Checks by Abuja Metro, revealed that lovers even as young as secondary school students meet up at malls. Indeed, malls are dominated by the young and upwardly mobile and this explains why film and music stars as well as major brands choose to meet with their target audience at these mega shopping centres. For some, you can watch a movie, grab a snack and end up in the drinking hole in the same mall within hours. Many families also choose these malls when it is time for leisure.
But the shopping malls which undeniably have contributed to earning Abuja its city status also come with shortcomings. For example, not all of them have enough parking spaces and this often leads to shoppers parking in unsafe spots. Also, pricing is still a problem for some shoppers as they insist that the traditional markets sell at lower prices, though it could take a lot of haggling. Sometimes, just like queuing to drive in, shoppers have to wait as much as 20 minutes to pay in some of the hypermarkets. Though some popular retail chains have customer cards that ensure a buyer enjoys discount, it takes time sometimes, to get these discount cards. Also, some have complained that the discount given make little or no difference.
Even with more and more residents of Abuja buying into the modern retail experience, some diehard fans of the traditional markets told Abuja Metro they would stick with the hustle and bustle of places like Wuse market. Ransome Orji is one such shopper. He said: “I confess that I do not shop as much as my wife or the average woman. But I do not think I will reduce my visits to Wuse market which is near my home. Nothing beats the realness of a market. For me, there is something plastic about shopping malls and I just love the informality of markets.”