Syrian shopping malls see sales fall, Merchants desperate for profit

Sham City Center shopping mall in Kafr Sousa, Damascus - December 26, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Sham City Center shopping mall in Kafr Sousa, Damascus - December 26, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)


Enab Baladi – Maria al-Shaaban

Shopping centers or malls in the governorates under the control of the Syrian regime have turned into places for leisure and spending time rather than being visited for shopping and purchasing necessities.

Shopping in malls has become a far-fetched option for most of the population, and the situation is different for tourists and expatriates during their visits to Syria and some high-income individuals.

The reluctance to shop in malls is due to the ailing economic situation, which has led the majority of the population to rely on more cost-effective alternatives, regardless of quality and type, whether it is clothes, food, or household items, and the increase in demand for used clothes markets.

The sales and purchase movement has declined for the majority of mall stores over the past ten years, according to Salim, (a pseudonym for security reasons) the owner of a cosmetics store in Sham City Center mall in Kafr Sousa, Damascus, in a conversation with Enab Baladi.

Salim attributed the decline in business to the depreciation of the Syrian currency against the dollar and the decrease in purchasing power in the markets, along with the increase in prices of products in general, whether it is clothing, food, or raw materials inside and outside the malls.

Continuity is more important than expansion

The economic researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Manaf Quman, believes that merchants in areas under the control of the Syrian regime are adopting new strategic plans to survive in the market.

As the merchant is aware of the state of commercial activity and sales, the new strategies pursued do not aim to expand in the market and make high profits as much as they aim for the continuity of staying in business and covering production costs, according to what the economic researcher explained to Enab Baladi.

Quman said that the merchants may resort to multiplying the prices of goods several times to maintain the continuity of their business, in addition to evading taxes and fees and marketing products to the wealthy class through personal communication.

Some merchants offer a monthly royalty (a sum given as evidence of submission or as a price for security personnel) to protect stores from strict control and taxes, a practice followed by store owners in the My Center Mall in Daraa governorate. They pay a monthly amount to two officers in the political security branch to protect the mall from inspections and interference with prices.

The merchants pay royalties by collecting the amounts and presenting them to a mediator without the merchants knowing the identity of the officer who receives the money, according to what Mohammed (a pseudonym for security reasons), the owner of a children’s clothing store in My Center Mall located in al-Kashef neighborhood, Daraa, told Enab Baladi.

Rents in malls

Some merchants prefer to buy or rent a store in a mall over regular popular markets, justifying this by the non-negotiable pricing policy in malls, as the customer does not try to reduce the price and change it, unlike in popular markets, according to Salim, a merchant in Sham City Center mall in Damascus.

The rents of stores in malls vary according to the floor number and store area. Salim mentioned that the monthly rent for his store is four million Syrian pounds (285 US dollars), which is lower compared to the rent of stores in al-Hamra or al-Shalan Streets in Damascus, where the rent for some stores reaches seven million pounds.

As for the My Center Mall in Daraa, Mohammed said that he pays $2000 annually for his store, which is approximately 28.5 million Syrian pounds according to the exchange rate of the dollar against the Syrian pound as per the S-P Today website, and Mohammed pays approximately 2.3 million pounds monthly.

According to the rental policy adopted in the mall, the merchant has the option to pay according to the monthly or annual rent, knowing that monthly rents are higher than annual ones.

According to what Mohammed observed, many lessees of commercial stores in My Center Mall decided to close their stores for several reasons, including the high rent compared to the sales average and profits made by the store owners.

The value of the Syrian pound declined against the US dollar by a percentage that reached 113.5% on an annual basis during 2023, as the last six months of the year witnessed significant changes in the value of the pound.

The minimum wage for public sector workers in areas under the regime’s control is approximately 185 thousand pounds (13 dollars), while the average cost of living exceeds 10.3 million pounds, and hence the average cost of living in Syria is about 55 times the minimum wage.

Malls prices incompatible with reality

Malls in areas under the regime’s control do not reflect the country’s economic reality, as the prices of goods do not align with the income of an individual or a family, and do not provide prices suitable for all segments of the Syrian society.

According to the economic researcher Manaf Quman, the economic policies approved by the Syrian regime through supervision and control are unreliable and against the interests of citizens and merchants.

Quman said that the Syrian regime is detached from the economic reality of the country and is concerned with maintaining power at the expense of the citizens, the merchants, and the manufacturers as well.

Merchants resort to marketing and selling their goods to the well-off class or tourists and families of expatriates who receive financial support from their children or family members, according to what Salim, the merchant at Sham City Center mall, said to Enab Baladi.

“You won’t find anyone buying pants for 100,000 pounds from the mall, while he can find a similar one for 70,000 pounds outside,” Salim added.

Salim attributed this to the fact that profits are no longer as they used to be, “however, at the same time, we cannot be certain of the merchants’ loss, as some are partners with officials and officers in the state, and therefore there is leniency regarding taxes and pricing, in exchange for maintaining profits as much as possible,” according to his expression.

“Not for everyone”

Opinions differ among local residents in areas under the regime’s control regarding shopping from malls or from the popular markets known to the Syrian community.

This is due to the gap between the prices of goods in the mall, which are not in line with the economic reality of the population, and the individual’s ability to secure these goods.

A segment of the society prefers shopping from malls because they contain everything the family may need in one place, like Suzan, a homemaker and the wife of a manager in a company in Dubai, who chose not to mention her full name for security reasons. Suzan chooses to shop from the mall because she does not see a significant difference in prices, and for the cheapness of the products when compared to the prices in neighboring countries, according to her expression.

Another segment of the population relies on popular markets, considering them as markets well-known to the Syrian community, including Nisreen, from Rukn al-Din district in Damascus, who prefers popular markets and regular stores because of their lower prices compared to malls, and because of the customer’s ability to negotiate.

Nisreen said that the intimacy with the popular markets in Damascus makes her prefer them over modern markets.

Olaa, 40, from Baramkeh district in Damascus, said she has never entered a shopping center until this day, like many of her relatives, and the idea is not feasible as it wastes time and money, “so she won’t enter (the mall) without paying, because it’s not for everyone,” according to her expression.

Contrary to what is popular in countries around the world, and with the decline of the economic situation in Syria, relying on shopping from commercial centers (malls) remains the prerogative of high-income individuals, tourists, and expatriates during their visits to Syria.

Economic distress prevails in areas under the control of the Syrian regime, attributed primarily by the World Bank to the destruction of physical capital in the past decade and the disruption of commercial activity, in addition to the effects of the devastating earthquake in February 2023.

The economic crisis in Syria is considered one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, and Syria tops the list of the poorest countries in the world, with a percentage of 82.5%, according to the data of the global World By Map website, and 90% of the population lives below the poverty line according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Syria ranks second after Somalia in the Corruption Perceptions Index of 2022.


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