Swedish eyes are smiling in SA's malls
Swedish retail giant H&M might be cutting back in some parts of the globe, but definitely not in SA.
Despite weak consumer confidence and an economy barely showing growth in the four years since it entered the market, the fashion group is about to open its 26th store in the country.
More mature markets have not been so lucky. In February, H&M announced plans to close 190 of its nearly 5,000 stores worldwide.
The company cited challenges in markets such as the US and Norway, where online retail is mounting a serious challenge to bricks-and-mortar shopping.
"It is very much aligned with the strategy around digitalisation and becoming a lot more 'omnichannel'," Oldouz Mirzaie, H&M country manager, said about the company's global positioning this week. Omnichannel is retail-speak for selling goods in stores, online and over the phone.
"In SA at this time, there are no plans to close any stores, we're expanding," she added.
For a company that has the bulk of its stores north of the equator, operating in the southern hemisphere was a new learning experience.
"In SA, we particularly see that colours and bold prints and flowers, and these designs that represent, I would say, the African culture and the African vibrancy ... do particularly well for us," said Mirzaie.
The retailer is also looking into adjusting fits and sizes to make its clothes more relevant for South African consumers.
H&M is growing its store footprint in SA at a time when entrenched rivals such as Edcon, which operates Edgars, is having to tighten its belt. The South African retailer is shedding 17% of its floor space over a five-year period.
Mirzaie said H&M felt no schadenfreude over Edgars' plight. "We're not getting any pleasure out of that. We're happy actually to hear there was a strategy in place and they're getting support."
But Edgars, which in some ways resembles a department store and is often the anchor tenant in shopping centres, differs from the H&M business model.
"We want to position ourselves where our competition is, within the fashion section of the malls," Mirzaie said.
When H&M opened its first South African store in 2015, it went head-to-head with Mr Price - fast fashion at low prices.
Now H&M is eyeing another category that has worked well for Mr Price - homeware. H&M has only three homeware stores in SA, compared to Mr Price's more than 100, but will focus on growing and integrating the H&M home brand into its other stores.
Other foreign retailers that have pushed into SA in recent years include Spain's Zara, which has six stores in big centres.
Australia's Cotton On started in the cities, but has since expanded into the smaller towns and has about 170 stores.
The H in H&M stands for Hennes, Swedish for "hers" - the chain has its roots in the late 1940s when it first focused on women's clothing. The M is for Mauritz, a men's clothing chain it acquired in the 1960s.