Online product research and discovery influences R293.8 billion in physical sales, accounting for 25% of South Africa’s retail trade, according to the recently released 2022 South African Digital Customer Experience Report. The Report also revealed that the South African retail e-commerce market is showing no signs of slowing down, with consumer spend projected to increase by 39% in 2022. It is therefore essential for retailers to implement a connected approach between online and offline retail to both improve customer experience and grow their business.
This is according to Michael Zahariev, co-founder of Luxity – South Africa’s largest pre-owned luxury reseller, who says that shoppers like to view products online and then buy them in store. “While e-commerce is here to stay, the resurgence of mall culture post-pandemic is clear. This has been evidenced by a number of South Africa’s commercial property groups not only seeing footfall numbers exceeding pre-Covid levels but spend per head too.”
Malls make a comeback
Similarly, he points out that the latest SA Property Owners Association’s Retail Trends Report has shown that super-regional shopping centres (aka mega malls), like the V&A Waterfront in the Western Cape, The Gateway Theatre of Shopping in KwaZulu-Natal, and Sandton City in Gauteng, are now trading 6.4% above their pre-pandemic level. “This is likely a consequence of consumers who were opting to shop at smaller community and neighbourhood centres closer to home during the height of Covid now returning to super-regional centres.”
“Shopping at the mall is an experience, especially when it comes to luxury goods or once-off purchases. However, everyday purchases like groceries are now being bought over apps, with the likes of Pick n Pay and Checkers reporting that their app-based sales have increased by 300% and 250% since the start of the 2022/23 financial year,” explains Zahariev.
Omnichannel takes centre stage
As 73% of consumers prefer to shop across several channels, he asserts that retailers must invest in tech to better service their customers and remain competitive. “Nowadays, consumers expect to be able to engage with brands via omnichannel experiences and, for businesses, this could be a key service differentiator. But, if they don’t implement this, they could be left behind in the future.”
Zahariev adds that shoppers also want to be able to communicate with brands on their preferred platforms. “For example, 75% of our digital sales are conducted through WhatsApp. It’s an app that people use every day, so it’s familiar, easy to use, and a part of their daily lives. Messaging over WhatsApp is favoured over engaging with a chatbot on a website or having to download yet another store app, not to mention calling (and getting stuck on hold) or emailing (and wondering whether anyone is on the other end).”
Tools like WhatsApp are being increasingly used across the entire customer journey, with 84% using the platform to make general enquiries pre-purchase, 74% making purchases over the app, and 76% getting product or service support post-purchase.
Communication must be centralised
“As omnichannel continues to rise and evolve, it’s vital for all engagements to be centralised – or at least communicated across the various channels,” notes Zahariev. “There is nothing worse than a customer having one engagement over WhatsApp and then coming to the store only to find that the shop assistants have no knowledge of this. Solving asynchronous data is essential for any omnichannel approach.”
He concludes by saying, “South African consumers clearly enjoy the best of both the online and offline shopping worlds, so, for retailers to retain and grow their customer base, they need to not only ensure a seamless experience across all touchpoints, but also meet customers where they are, not where retailers think they should be. Customer centricity will remain king in 2023 and retailers will need to up the ante with shopping experiences that consumers now desire and expect.”