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Digital innovations in the retail sector

Digital innovation is a strategic decision made by organisations to meet changing consumer needs. As we operate our businesses and live in the “digital era”, remaining relevant becomes important. Digital innovations affect the modes of communication used to reach the customers, they change certain aspects of operations, operating systems, and processes, including, yet not limited to, the marketing mix.

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When a customer hears the word retail, what do they expect?

Retail shopping to many entails identification and purchase of items which can be touched, seen, felt, smelt and sometimes heard. Retail is defined as the sale of goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption, rather than for resale.

To women, retail is a fun activity and the store — a Mecca of beautiful things, and the mall an escape into the land of shoes, clothes, cosmetics, and entertainment— whereas for most men, shopping is a chore, a process, a burden and an activity that is time-consuming.

The Collins English dictionary defines a retail shop as “a business which sells goods to individual customers”.

The art of retail selling is ensuring that the products are easily accessible, that the merchandising is done to enhance product displays, and that the environment the goods are sold in is kept aesthetically appealing, all in an effort to achieve an enjoyable retail shopping experience. Some of the methods used to improve the retail experience for customers are the use of personal shopper services, music in outlets, cool mist in vegetable and fruit sections of an open market, taste samples in the deli sections of stores, large well-lit areas with air-conditioning, clothing fitting rooms, the list is endless.

The retail sales strategies mentioned continue to be effective; however, as we embrace the era of digital innovations in retail and as these disrupt all aspects of the marketing mix, the future of retail shopping and marketing is a thrilling experience.

A study carried out in 2016 by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) revealed the following:

  • Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba overtook Walmart as the world’s biggest retailer. So a brand without physical stores is now making the greatest volume of sales in the world.
  • Amazon announced a new store that doesn’t have a single checkout till. The e-tailer also accounts for over 40% of market share in the US.

The PWC study conducted for the year 2017 highlighted the following disruptions in the retail sector as a result of digital innovations.

  • The smartphone is set to increasingly become the preferred shopping tool.
  • Omni channel retail will continue as the dominant retail strategy. “Onmi channel retail is the ability of a retailer to offer their products to consumers through various channels.”
  • 58% of consumers worldwide are engaged and respond to retailers via social media, with Africa averaging 50%.
  • 25% of consumers stay on top of fashion trends through social media, and 16% purchase directly though social media channels.
  • Africa has the highest broadband growth rate across the world, meaning Africa is getting ready to embrace and accommodate digital innovation and its effect on modern day retailing.
  • The consumer will demand more personalised service experiences.

An insight into current and expected disruptions happening now!

  • Mobile payments: in Africa and the world over, individuals can now access their bank accounts using their mobile phones, some payments can be done via bank transfer, other payments are done through instant transfers such as ZipIt in Zimbabwe, while payment methods such as EcoCash are being used across the borders and within Zimbabwe to transact.
  • Customer experience marketing: personal shoppers, makeover services using make up and related cosmetics, as well as sample tasting of food in supermarkets are methods used to create an experience for the customers, with the desired outcome of converting tasting and testing into revenue.
  • Social networking: retail merchandise has become readily available through social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram. These social sites have become the virtual catalogues and brochures for establishments that market and sell products and services alike.
  • Burberry, the luggage and clothing brand created a mobile app which enables customers to have their coats custom made to size, and bags personalised using tags attached to the luggage. Once the customer has received their merchandise, they can access a video link highlighting the stages of production from cutting the pattern to stitching the coat, and finally adding the labels and tags before delivery.

In the next five years in Africa

  • Rebecca mink off magic mirrors; live mirrors suggest matching items as the customers enter shop dressing rooms. Customers are free to swipe through the inventory using the touch screen, decide what they wish to buy, confirm with an associate and receive a copy of the receipt for payment.
  • Shoes of Prey: based in Sydney, Australia, this shoe retailer lets customers create their own shoes using 3D design technology. The customer is free to choose the shape, colour, height and fabric of the shoes.

Digital innovations in the retail and services sector will force organisations to strategise and adjust their operations to stay relevant in a fast-paced environment where consumers demand instant gratification, immediate answers to their questions, and satisfaction of their senses. Companies need to ensure that their product offerings satisfy these needs at each point of contact.

Predictions as a result of the many digital innovations that continue to arise

  • Reduction of human capital in organisations, i.e. virtual check-out points
  • A higher prevalence of plastic and virtual money i.e. online payment, less cash in circulation.
  • A reduced cost and improved efficiency of Wi-Fi network services to accommodate digital innovations.
  • Shorter waiting periods in brick and mortar establishments.
  • More virtual stores instead of traditional brick outlets.
  • Use of less paper in traditional advertising channels i.e. fewer print brochures, billboards, and catalogues.

This article was contributed on behalf of the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe, a leading body of marketing professionals promoting professionalism to the highest standards for the benefit of the industry and the economy at large. For any further information, kindly contact mazmembership@mazim.co.zw or visit the website on www.maz.co.zw

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