What’s the most noteworthy feature of the world’s largest retailer, Alibaba? Perhaps the fact that it transacts entirely online. That the retailer turning over the largest volume in the world doesn’t own a single physical store is testimony to the dramatic changes that are taking place within the retail sector.

This raises another question: what do retailers have to do to stand out – and remain successful – in this rapidly evolving environment? The answer lies in assuring convenience and personalisation, says Nomzamo Radebe, CEO of JHI Retail, part of Cushman & Wakefield Excellerate – and to do this, players must turn to technology.

Of course, most (if not all) have already done so. It’s rare to find a shopping centre or retailer that doesn’t have a website or online presence. But leveraging technology goes way beyond ensuring that Internet shoppers are able to find out who you are and what time your store opens, or even providing a channel where they can order goods.

In fact, the most forward thinking retailers are ensuring that they’re not just easy to find online. They’ve also launched apps, so that shoppers literally carry around their information. And information is just the beginning. The functionality offered by apps is growing every day, answering those twin drivers of convenience and personalisation. Makeup giant Sephora’s offering is often cited in the international press as a stellar example: at the touch of a button, consumers can ‘try on’ makeup. That’s thanks to an AR which makes it possible for the app to scan a face. All that’s left is for fans to see what shades and colours suit them.

Glamour brands aren’t the only ones to benefit. Locally, Woolworths sends personalised discount coupons based on past consumer behaviour. This demonstrates the symbiosis inherent in the retailer-technology-consumer relationship: the more consumers engage with tech related to the retailer, the more information will be gleaned about their habits, likes and dislikes, and the more retailers can tailor their offering. For this reason, retailers are urged to take advantage of all channels available to them, from the cloud to mobility, data and analytics.

Mobile devices remain one of the most important vehicles for delivering this information – and note that this encompasses all devices, from phones to tablets. In fact, most international retailers are adopting an ‘omnichannel’ approach, so that their offering provides a seamless experience across any platform the consumer may use.

Of course, the obvious use for mobile is to push communication. Why trust that a consumer will come across your latest promotion on TV or in print, when you can have it delivered into their hands? But that’s just one option. Many retailers have realised they can use mobiles to improve the consumer’s retail experience. For instance, navigating the aisles is a common consumer bugbear, especially if you’re visiting a store for the first time. With the correct information available for download on a mobile, this problem disappears. The consumer’s need for convenience is answered, along with their desire for a superb experience and – boom – just like that, you’ve gained a long-term customer. Now, imagine if you could enhance that convenience even more, by making payment even easier. We’ve seen the increased use of QR codes in this regard, but that’s just the beginning. The instance of cryptocurrency on the retail landscape remains to be seen, for example – and there are other money technologies to be explored.

When consumers check their phones, it’s often because they’re catching up with their social media timelines. More good news for retailers, as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provide more channels for communicating with their constituents – and not only as another avenue for pushing promotions and brands. Savvy retailers keep track of what’s trending, and leverage the most popular hashtags of the day to punt their own brands. This not only boosts their relevance (a critical aspect of brand success in today’s ever changing milieu); it also raises their profile as consumers like and repost, perhaps even to the point where they gain free PR through media coverage.

But back to convenience. One of the reasons strip malls and community shopping centres started gaining prominence over malls in recent years is because they are often more user-friendly, especially in terms of parking and access. This explains why retailers who are using technology to minimise consumers’ effort and input are winning: think of those astute players who have made it possible to pre-order the week’s groceries online, then simply run in to pay for the parcel. Or those pioneering pre-payment online. Shopping centres that have introduced parking apps, to facilitate parking payment, also deserve a mention here.

Overseas, Amazon has announced the launch of stores without tellers, and although it removes an element of the human touch, it may remove those pesky pay queues, too – which will make many consumers far happier.
Not all of them, though. As mentioned, experience ranks highly on today’s consumer’s shopping list of desires, and speed and efficiency aren’t always the alpha and omega here. This is why people still

have a role to play: shoppers want to feel wowed. They are looking for in-store features that tickle their senses. They want to feel as though that experience speaks directly to them, and resonates with their values and beliefs. And they also want to be able to access information about the store, its brands and products.

The key to making sure that today’s retailers don’t go the same way as yesterday’s corner store? Keep it real. Give consumers what they want, when they want it. And make it feel as though you’ve done it all just for them.

Issued by:
Cushman & Wakefield Excellerate
Marna van der Walt, CEO
Tel: 011 911 8000