Rising living standards, falling unemployment rates and lower inflation point to a turnaround in consumer demand in Ghana in the years ahead. After a slowdown in the uptake of retail space, renewed consumer confidence and increasing purchasing power could provide renewed impetus for the sector’s growth.
Per capita GDP has increased each year since 2015, reaching $4738 in 2018, up from $4457 in 2017 and $4135 in 2016. In comparison, the regional average for sub-Saharan Africa stood at $3968 in 2018 and $3891 in 2017.
After eight consecutive years of growing unemployment, between 2007 and 2015 the proportion of the population looking for work fell slightly, from an 11-year peak of 6.81% in 2015 to 6.62% in 2017. However, the unemployment rate rose in 2018 and 2019 to 6.71% and 6.78%, respectively. Despite this, the slight increase in Ghanaians receiving a steady income was also reflected in rising household expenditure. According to the World Bank, household consumption grew by 12% in 2018, from $116.7bn to $130.7bn, a considerable increase compared to $102.6bn in 2016.
Monetary policy adjustments by the Bank of Ghana have kept price increases within a targeted band of between 6% and 10% since April 2018. Headline inflation was recorded at 8.2% in November 2019, down from 10% in 2018 in spite of notable downside risks posed by currency depreciation in the last quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2019, alongside fiscal pressures and an increase in import demand.
Although inflation reached its highest level in four months in November 2019 due to the weakening cedi, up from 7.7% in the previous month, the central bank remained confident that inflation would stay within the target range in 2020, shoring up consumer purchasing power. The bank cited tighter monetary policy, exchange rate stability supported by improved reserves at the end of the second quarter of 2019 and a favourable current account outturn as reasons for its positivity.
According to the quarterly Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) published by US data and analytics firm Nielsen, consumer confidence in Ghana fell by 5 points to 108 in the last quarter of 2018. The dip was attributed to the depreciation of the cedi, negative perceptions of the job market following the restructuring of banks and high lending costs. Although the country’s CCI score remained constant in the first three months of 2019, it increased by 10 points to 118 in the following quarter. According to the Bank of Ghana, the mid-2019 confidence boost was buttressed by an improving economic situation, expected improvements in household finances and lower inflation.
The more optimistic consumer outlook also reflects perceptions of employment prospects and readiness to spend. According to the survey conducted in the second quarter of 2019, 63% of Ghanaians believed their job prospects would be good or excellent over the next six months, and 74% felt their personal finances would be good or excellent over the next 12 months.
The traditional market still dominates the sector, accounting for 90% of retail trade in Ghana. However, as the middle class continues to grow across Africa, the country has witnessed the widespread development of Western-style shopping malls in larger city centres, particularly in the Greater Accra area. Accra Mall was the first of its kind to appear in 2007, offering 20,000 sq metres of retail space anchored by South African companies Game and ShopRite. By November 2018 Ghana had between 200,000 and 230,000 sq metres of formal shopping mall space, according to real estate services firm JLL.
While the sector boomed in its first decade, the proliferation of retail space has begun to outpace demand, leading to higher vacancy rates and a slowdown in new retail developments as the market has become more saturated. The average vacancy rate for retail space was recorded at 20% in the third quarter of 2018, according to Broll Ghana’s most recent “Property Market Barometer”. However, the rate can range between 5% and 50% in investment-grade retail space. Legacy malls, such as Accra Mall and Marina Mall, see negligible vacancies, while newer shopping centres report vacancies of between 20% and 25% and older malls may experience vacancy rates closer to the 50% mark. Downward pressure on sales was reflected in falling consumer confidence in the run-up to winter 2018. As a result, a reduction in tenants’ turnover, compounded by a proliferation of new and cheaper retail space, exerted pressure on established malls to reduce rentals.
Newer malls generally offer lower prices to accommodate higher vacancy rates. In 2013 rental rates varied between $60 and $65 per sq metre, widening to $30-80 per sq metre in 2016. In November 2018 Broll reported that the rate remained almost unchanged at $35-80.
Although the sector’s performance has been subdued in recent years, the medium-term outlook remains positive. New malls continue to be developed, albeit at a slower pace. Ghana International Mall in Accra will be among the continent’s largest malls, adding 100,000 sq metres to the retail market. The shopping centre, which as of January 2020 was under construction and seeking tenants, is being developed by locally registered company Lumiere Group International and will also include a 150,000-sq-metre residential area.
The formal retail market contains both domestic and international players. Melcom Group is the country’s largest local retailer, with 41 retail outlets and three cash and carry stores. Max Mart and Palace are also among the larger local retailers. The latter, which has two branches in Accra and one in Kumasi, has opted for a standalone store model rather than filling an anchor tenant role. The company expanded its Palace Shopping Mall in Accra, known as The Palms Square, to offer retail space to a number of local and international brands. Four additional branches are scheduled to open by the end of 2020.
A number of South African retailers, such as Shoprite Holdings, Game, Edgars and Mr Price, continue to anchor malls, particularly in Accra. However, pressure in the South African trading environment has led some tenants to consolidate their businesses, vacating retail space in Ghana. In August 2019 the Foschini Group, which owns fashion stores Foschini, sportscene and Markham, jeweller American Swiss and furniture store @home, announced it was reviewing its presence in Ghana, notifying malls of its intention to close stores.
Despite some international retailers leaving the market, several food brands have established outlets in Accra in recent years. Accra saw its second Burger King and fourth KFC outlets open in 2019, and the seventh Pizza Hut branch was rolled out in May 2019. While the number of international fast food outlets is steadily increasing, their largest competition remains the traditional food markets serving inexpensive meals along the pavements of the country’s cities.
The e-commerce segment has continued to grow in Ghana, recently spurred by improvements in online payment systems and the increased adoption of financial technology. While many people have been reluctant to make use of payment cards, the rapid growth of mobile money services is likely to boost consumer trust in online payment systems. According to the World Bank’s “Ghana Economic Update: Enhancing Financial Inclusion” report published in June 2019, Ghana has become the fastest-growing mobile money market in Africa, with 39% of adults registered for a mobile money account in 2017, up from 13% in 2014.
While mobile phone penetration is robust at 128%, internet penetration is relatively low at 33.6% as of the end of 2018, with 10.1m active internet users, falling short of the 39.8% average for the continent. An estimated 60% of internet users access websites using mobile phone, providing a fertile ground for the development of e-commerce and digital payment apps.
The e-commerce market remains skewed towards the sale of goods online, either through vertical or horizontal sales channels. Tonaton is one of the most popular e-commerce websites, providing an online marketplace for goods, while brick-and-mortar retailers have also begun to embrace the use of online platforms.