In this five-part article series, we will be diving into the Retail industry and explaining what makes it the overwhelming success it is today. This article, the first in our series, discusses the general landscape of the retail industry and where it is heading.


Over the last year, it appears that the South African economy’s woes remain. The consumer and business owner continue to feel the pinch; rises in the oil price, emerging markets sell-off and increased VAT rates have been among the contributing factors to a dismal economic climate. Although South Africa’s full year economic outlook remains weak, there is a positive sentiment that the economy would emerge from its recession by year-end, before improving to some extent by next year.

However, the retail market has advanced in ways it never thought imaginable. The transformation in the process of shopping and shopping behaviour over the last decade has been extraordinary. The growth in online shopping, the changing mind-set of consumers, and the rise of digital and social media has led to a much more fragmented approach to shopping in terms of what, where, how and why people buy. The online possibilities have opened the retail scope to international activity, changing the focus of traditional retail process into a more connected and convenient relationship.

Retailers must stay relevant in relation to the frequently changing habits of the consumer. To do this, they must have extensive knowledge and appreciation of current consumer behaviours and the way to act within this context through innovative solutions. The competitive nature and easily interchangeable options that consumers have now forced retailers to stay relevant in this convenience-based economy.

One major advantage that retailers have that others may not, is their maturity cycle. As the life cycle of a retail business matures more rapidly than other types of business, it is easier for them to change their strategies and reorganise their businesses based on current consumer trends.


The retail sector remains a key indicator of consumer spending, which drives growth in the economy. This sector has been knocked hard in recent months by a weaker rand, rising inflation and higher oil prices, which has cut into disposable income.

In contrast, from our analysis, retailers have generally shown great resilience in this difficult trading environment. This may be due to a new model being implemented by retailers: the independent retailer model. The independent entrepreneur’s ability to move fast, adapt to change and build meaningful customer relationships continues to provide the competitive advantage in the retail space.

However, in light of the above analysis, it is evident that whether you are an independent, franchise or corporate, in order for retail to evolve and survive while also taking advantage of new market opportunities, retailers should be innovative and take a holistic approach to staff and consumer relations.


Customer requirements and perceptions, as well as brand awareness, should be seriously considered given where the market currently stands. Below are a few strategies to ensure your business remains at the cutting edge of innovation and customer relations, while also ensuring continuous growth:

Evermore sophisticated customers are looking for brick-and-mortar employees that are more equipped with good product knowledge, ability to give advice and possess people skills. This requires knowledge and skill at store level. This means that retailers need to put in the time to train their employees to give them the proper brand and social practice to ensure successful sales.

The branding landscape amongst South African retailers is an eclectic mix of conventional branding, some branding, minimal branding, and no branding at all.  Many of the national buying groups are at various phases of brand development, some far more advanced than others. The importance of maturing this part of the retail market is addressed in a survey conducted by PWC’s Global Consumer Insights Team, with over 22 000 participants, concluding that the following factors, other than price, influenced their decision to shop at a particular retailer. More than one in three (35%) ranked ‘trust in the brand’ as among their top three reasons. This highlights the importance of developing the brand and knowing what it stands for.

Consumers seek connection with retailers via social media and loyalty programs. Over the past decade, social media has changed the way consumers and brands interact, giving consumers more of a voice and placing higher demands on brands to be authentic, respond to consumer concerns, be accountable for mishaps, and even take a stand on relevant social and cultural topics. Clearly, consumers’ trust has become more crucial for a brand’s success, as customers rely on social media, their family’s opinions, advertising messages, and media coverage to make product decisions and gauge brand authenticity. The PWC Global Consumer Insights Survey 2018 points to the soaring importance of social media – shoppers trusting the collective opinions of strangers – and the challenge, for brands and retailers alike, to be seen as authentic and trustworthy.

The issue of trust should also be a top priority for executives, as they consider how to deploy new technology and services to bolster the customer experience, while protecting the security of an ever-expanding trove of customer data. Although trust in the brand plays a strong role in determining where consumers shop, consumers rely heavily on other people’s opinions to decide what to buy. With that said, at the business level, trust could be more sustainably achieved through partnering.

In order for retailers to continue to expand on their growth in 2019, they will need to remain focused on being customer-driven and providing innovative sustainable solutions, while also ensuring that they treat their staff as brand ambassadors and provide adequate training to maintain steady revenue-flows.

Amanda van der Berg
Green Beetle Branding