by Terena Chetty. Consumer habits have changed drastically, even as the world reverts more to ‘normal’. Over the last couple of years, large segments of the population turned to online shopping for the first time, and existing online consumers expanded their virtual buying habits.
The Statista Digital Market Outlook report projects a whopping 56% increase in active online shoppers in Africa, with the numbers set to rise from 334 million in 2021 to an estimated 518 million by 2025. Clearly, for mere survival (let alone success), retail brands need to be able to seamlessly marry the physical and digital, as well as adapt to emerging consumer demands and market developments.
Earlier this year, Microsoft released its “Retail Reimagined” report for 2022, outlining the predicted future of retail in 2022 through to 2023. The report echoes the sentiment that while physical in-store shopping is starting to pick up, there will be even more channels for commerce and entertainment that will involve digital media, virtual and augmented reality and our inevitable transformation into the ecommerce metaverse.
Besides digital influence, success is also all about the consumer and being agile when it comes to market expectations. Amidst a still uncertain business landscape, these are some of the factors that retail brands cannot ignore when looking to the foreseeable future:
1. Purchasing Journeys: Fast & Furious
The purchasing journey entails a combination of numerous touchpoints, both physical and online (such as billboards, social media content, digital ads, in-store experience, etc). This will remain true, however, the speed of consumer journey expectations are set to increase. This applies to various aspects of the consumer journey: from the ease of finding information online that aids in purchasing decisions, to the convenience of self-service kiosks in-store, to delivery turn-around times – consumers want more speed. Research by Wunderman Thompson shows that 80% of consumers want to get from ‘inspiration’ to ‘purchase’ quicker, and brands need to explore frictionless strategic solutions to help achieve this.
2. Customer Experience: Do or Die
Ensuring that Customer Experience (CX) fundamentals are part of brand strategies is critical. CX is all about understanding clients, their needs, and delivering on (or better still, exceeding) expectations. As stated by Cate Trotter, head of trends at Insider Trends, “More than ever, it’s about defining YOUR future of retail. As the field widens and even more subcultures emerge, the idea of ‘one size fits all’ is less viable than ever. Your best guidance will come from your customers. Which other brands and experiences are raising and setting their expectations? Once you know these, you can work out how to match and surpass these experiences. Often, it’s not about being the best, it’s about being two steps ahead of your own customers.”
3. Social Impact = Deep Impact
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can no longer be seen as a “pet project” by businesses. Instead, it needs to form an integral part of brand strategies. And it’s not just about “charitable donations” – it’s about aligning a brand to a cause in a genuine way. Customers support brands that support causes they believe in. For legacy businesses who may have thrived in the past without ever embracing the social impact aspect, it is important to note that consumers have changed. Which means that methods that may have worked previously, no longer necessarily still best serve the company. Integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) projects into business strategies simply makes good business sense. As explained by Ralph Robinson, head of retail & consumer markets at BJSS, retailers should use their ESG policies, “as a point of differentiation in the market to help with both recruiting key talent; and as a differentiator in the eyes of the increasingly relevant socially-conscious Gen Z and Alpha customer base.”
4. Net Zero: The Final Frontier
Climate change is undeniable – we are experiencing it in our daily lives. Sustainable practices by retail brands (and consumers) are crucial for the future of the planet. It is the responsibility of all businesses to work on reducing carbon footprints, and striving for the net zero goal. Of course, such transformation must be done in an informed and strategic manner that supports bottom-line business goals in both the short and long term. Again, it’s a case of doing good for the planet while doing good business. Dr Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, explains: “Without question, protecting the future of the planet is the most pressing reason for accelerating net zero ambitions. Yet beyond that, retailers must view their sustainability credentials as critical to securing future competitiveness and relevance in a fast-changing world. Indeed, with many consumers avoiding purchasing certain brands due to sustainability concerns and employees looking to leaders to take the lead on climate change, retailers need to walk the walk on sustainability, not just talk the talk.”
Retailers (and, in fact, all brands), are quickly realising that ignoring data around consumer and market trends proves detrimental. It’s not about jumping onto any “fad” or trend – it’s about understanding the central, long-term themes that are evident across industries and geographies, and incorporating them into business planning. Again, agility is vital for longevity – the COVID-19 pandemic proved that. Evolution is inescapable – it will be interesting to see how the retail environment evolves over the rest of 2022 – and beyond.
Main image credit: Pixabay.com.
Terena Chetty is head of strategy at 1Africa Consulting, and has extensive experience in public relations (PR), integrated brand strategy and consumer communications. She works closely with both pan-African and global brands, and holds a BA Degree in Communication Science (cum laude).
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