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The evolving store

The smartphone is also being used more for daily and weekly shopping and purchasing, say PwC.

What products do South African consumers prefer buying online? According to the findings of a PwC poll of around 1 000 local shoppers, 62% say they prefer buying books, music, games and movies, compared to 60% globally.

With regards to purchases of electronics and computers, 43% of global respondents said they preferred online, compared to 37% of locals.

It also appears that shoppers, both here (79%) and abroad (70%) prefer to shop for their groceries in a corporeal shop.

The smartphone is also being used more for daily and weekly shopping and purchasing, and the frequency of mobile shopping has now overtaken that of tablet shopping. For weekly shopping however, 16% still used their PC, compared to 11% for mobile.

South Africans are more comfortable than their global peers using their smartphones to research products (SA: 57%, global: 44%), compare prices (52%, 38%) and access a promotional code or coupon (45%, 31%) than their global peers. Crucially, locals (56%) are also paying for their purchases using their phones, compared to 37% of their global counterparts.

PwC polled over 24 000 people worldwide for its annual Total Retail report, and suggest a number of areas in which retailers would be advised to invest to keep their businesses relevant. It said in 2014, consumers were asked whether they preferred to shop via an app, or a mobile site. The results were evenly split, in contrast to the present where there is now evidence for the superiority of the mobile website, as well as ‘severe app overload’.

Physical stores however, aren’t going away, and retailers are advised to hire and train sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product range.

Retailers should also work towards extracting business intelligence from their customer data. According to PwC associate director Rashaad Fortune, this remains a massive challenge, and retailers constantly face the questions of who their customer is, where and what they’re buying and how they’re paying for it.

Struggling with the single view

Fortune says the issue was not a paucity of data, but retailers ‘do not have the systems which are designed to provide from the volumes of data that is available today’.

More than a third of retailers say they are struggling to implement a strategy to provide a single view of the customer. Retailers need a single data platform so they don’t have ‘20 versions of the truth,’ says Fortune.

Investing in social media and expertise was also vital, Fortune added.

“The survey shows that social networks now influence respondents as their main source of inspiration. Our results also show that South Africans are deeply embedded in social networks, and this creates an opportunity for retailers who wish to invest in social media talent.”

While South Africans are comfortable shopping using their cellphones, they are also more aware than their global peers about online security and fraud. Retailers are advised to provide secure platforms for their users.

Despite this, retail in general is struggling around the world. PwC says US retail sales are expected to grow 3% to 4% in 2017 and most of the growth is coming from online sales.

How are retailers responding? In the case of Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, it has launched stores that mimic its website layout. Fortune said this involved laying out products so that clothing and accessories ‘co-mingle’ in a similar way to websites which link products which consumers purchase. This meant a customer no longer had to move through a store to create an outfit, as linked products were grouped together.

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