Every Sunday, the streets of Metro Manila — notorious for having the third-worst traffic in Southeast Asia — sees a stark drop in vehicles. The reasons? Apart from the absence of commuter-employees, the traffic has moved indoors.
As the Metro’s roads get declogged, the malls get crowded, welcoming thousands of Filipinos looking for leisure and entertainment. Tired from an entire week’s worth of work, Filipinos leave their homes for air-conditioned shopping centers to attend mass at the mall chapel, dine at restaurants, and take a stroll inside boutiques offering discounts and freebies. Thanks to sophisticated appliances like automatic washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and microwave ovens, the household can easily spend the entire day at their mall of choice.
This doesn’t just happen in the capital. In fact, malls all over the country are jam-packed with shoppers on the weekends. It’s a phenomenon shared by almost every city, and its origins date back to the time of the very first cities in the islands.
Our Love for Malls: An American Notion?
While the first mall opened during the American period, the Spanish government already established a public space where the community comes together — the plaza, which includes the city hall, law court, and church. Here, everyone can sleep or hold a picnic under trees. People can also hold political speeches and conduct civic duties.
When the Americans came, they added a music grandstand for live performances and beauty pageants. The public space then transferred indoors; the first enclosed, air-conditioned mall opened in 1932 in Escolta, the then commercial capital of Manila.
As malls grew bigger, it offered ever diverse consumer goods. There are places to dine, watch the latest movie, and even get medical and cosmetic services. As one opinion piece puts it, malls offer it all, and it’s a welcome change for people who live in cities with little urban planning and difficult public transportation.
As such, not even the convenience of online shopping undermine the cultural power of malls.
Love for Malls vs. Convenience of Online Shopping
Despite the record rise of online shopping elsewhere in the world, the Filipino buyer remains skeptical of digital purchases.
The 2017 Southeast Asian State of E-Commerce Report, for instance, found that though the country enjoys the third-highest share of mobile traffic in the ASEAN region (71.25%), purchase rates were at only 0.8% on mobile and 2% on desktop. The Philippines lags behind neighboring countries.
A separate 2018 study conducted by Research and Tech Lab (RTL), a digital research and consulting firm, found that 68.61% of Filipinos still prefer traditional shopping. Despite the allure of 24/7 access and convenience, shoppers still prefer inspecting the products before they check out.
On top of that, Filipinos are fond of munching on snacks every few hours, finding entertainment, and wanting to be around people or be seen by people — something online shopping cannot provide.
In fact, The Guardian article observes that, despite America’s huge influence over the Philippines, mall culture has yet to be overthrown by an equivalent. While malls in the US are closing, malls in the country remain lucrative and alive.
The Future of Malls
Slowly but surely, online shopping is taking hold of the Filipino consumers. Lazada, the biggest online shopping platform in Southeast Asia, expects its Philippine arm to grow by double digits this year. Even if the country takes its time to join trends, it still embraces economic changes, especially now that many workers render overtime and have less time to walk around air-conditioned aisles.
Because Filipinos are extremely family-oriented, however, it might still take a while before malls see sparse crowds on a Sunday. After all, after a long week of work, it’s a Filipino trait to find respite in a beautiful place, surrounded by the people who matter the most.