While the digital age has encouraged more consumers to shop and browse products on the web, physical stores are still primary destinations for shoppers globally, according to PwC’s annual consumer survey, Total Retail: Retailers and the Age of Disruption.
Based on an online survey of more than 19, 000 respondents globally, of which about 1000 were from South Africa, the report discloses that the physical store remains the retail touch point with the highest frequency, driving retailers to transform in-store experiences with differentiated storefronts that turn stores into ultimate shopping destinations.
According to the survey, only 14% of South African online shoppers say they shop online weekly or more frequently. Reserving the strength of the traditional store, 53% of South African survey respondents say they have intentionally browsed products at a store but decided to purchase them online, while a massive 73% say they have browsed products online but decided to purchase them in-store. Sixty-four percent of respondents noted the ability to see, touch and try on the merchandise before buying as the main reason for purchasing in-store after having browsed products online, while having the item immediately (62%), and avoiding delivery charges were given as other key reasons (60%).
“For the past several years, the story around retail stores was ‘showrooming,’ in which stores were places to display items for online purchase. However, this year’s survey results show that the online shop has also become a showroom where shoppers research and compare prices for later, in-store purchases,” says John Wilkinson, Retail and Consumer Leader for PwC, South Africa. “As online shopping continues to grow at the expense of store visits, we expect the premium in the future may be on creating unique, brand-defining store and online experiences that keep consumers coming back.”
The environment for retailers has never been more complex as consumers continue to develop their own approach to researching and purchasing products, both online and in-store. Achieving ‘total retail’ to meet the needs of consumers requires that retailers think beyond channels – however, retailers are faced with four waves of disruption, according to the survey results:
· The evolution of the store – Tailoring to the digital age, the role of the store will likely continue to evolve into something more connected, more customised, and increasingly attuned to shoppers’ expectations of what the in-store, online, and mobile ‘experience’ should be.
· Mobile technology – Mobile is still a very small piece of the pie in terms of overall retail sales, but mobile phones are increasingly a critical factor in setting the stage for a purchase.
· Social networks – Social media’s impact on retail may evolve along two tracks: one for the developing world in which social media increasingly becomes part of the daily fabric of shopping, and another for developed economies, in which social media continues to be more of a communications tool rather than a shopping tool.
· Demographic shifts – Global aging patterns show retailers can count on a large segment of global consumers who have a long track record of spending and intend to spend into the foreseeable future. At the same time, India and the nations of Africa continue to get younger, a polar opposite demographic disruption, but also one with positive ramifications for global retailers and consumer goods companies.
Mobile technology is a disruptor that continues to play a large role in the purchase journey, but currently in South Africa it is more of an instrument to get to the point of buying a product, rather than a tool for the actual purchase. More than half of South African shoppers (59%) have researched products on their mobile phones, while 63% have used them for price comparisons. Mobile payments are still in the infancy stage, with only 9% of South African survey respondents using them as their preferred method of payment. Furthermore, security remains an issue as 48% of South African consumers are wary of having their credit card information hacked using a mobile phone.
South African retailers’ and brands’ enthusiasm for social media is also driving consumers to engage, and for some time it led many to believe that social media platforms were a robust vehicle for shopping. According to the report, however, only 5% of South African respondents say they have purchased products via social media and 50% say they use social media to follow favorite brands and retailers. When asked if their interactions on social media have led them to buy more, 59% responded positively - showing social media’s effect on retail is just starting to be felt.
Perhaps most important for retailers, however, is that interactions with favourite retailers tend to make ‘digital natives’ (the 18 – 24 year-old set of survey participants) spend more on products. Sixty-three percent of our South African digital native cohort said they followed their favourite brands or retailers by way of social media.
The environment for retailers has become increasingly complex. Achieving ‘total retail’ demands retailers thinking beyond channels. “From in-store design studios, and personal shopping assistants to coffee and tea ateliers, retailers are offering a comprehensive experience, evolving into something sleeker, more customised, and increasingly attuned to shoppers’ expectations of what the in-store experience should be.
“With South Africa’s population being so young, the adoption of a more socially connected, digital retailing space where not only a product is sold but the customer receives a memorable experience, is imperative for any retailers looking to maintain or gain a competitive advantage over its competitors,” concludes Wilkinson.