Digital VS Retail Or The Digitisation Of Retail?
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Digital VS Retail Or The Digitisation Of Retail?

An opinion piece by Barry Williams, Head of Sales

10 May 2023
Digital VS Retail Or The Digitisation Of Retail?

As someone who manages relationships with many of South Africa's tier 1 retailers, I often get asked whether I am concerned that my role will become irrelevant with the rapid growth of digital technology. The simple answer is no. While I agree with many of my peers that digitisation is crucial for financial inclusivity, it still wouldn't meet everyone's needs.

In South African retail environments, cash payments are still prevalent. Despite the growing popularity of digital payment methods such as card payments, mobile payments, and online payments, many consumers still prefer cash. There are several reasons why cash payments remain popular in South Africa.

However, I believe that retail is all about the experience and building relationships. Having spent time in retail stores, I have noticed how clients and store staff develop relationships through regular visits to their favourite store. As a result, staff become familiar with their regular clients.

Retail also creates an emotional bond through tactile experiences, such as touching the fabric, engaging with the environment, and experiencing the smells and sounds. If customer service is done right, it can make the experience memorable.

Navigating the mall can be a way of escaping one's reality, taking people away from the day-to-day frustrations of life, such as poverty and load-shedding. It provides South Africans with an opportunity to socialise and browse through items they need or dream of.

I am not delusional about digitisation; it is the future, but it has its place.

To me, digital interaction is transactional, with an expectation that giving (buying) does not come without a return cost, such as delivery cost. Digital channels build efficiencies such as non-price items, like the cost of time. Many South Africans get paid per day or hour, and staying out of work to pay for or purchase an item not only costs them money but also transportation costs to get to a product or service. While it is a logical activity because it saves costs, is efficient, and can be done from anywhere, it is also forgettable because of its transactional relationship with clients. You don’t remember the smell of your environment when you scroll through the almost endless list of products and services.

As I mentioned earlier, both cash payments and digital payment options have a role to play in South African retail environments. However, the rise of digital payment options is gradually changing consumer behaviour. Retailers need to strike a balance between offering payment options that meet the needs of their customers while also managing the costs and risks associated with cash transactions. Digital channels and retail are not mutually exclusive; they can complement each other and offer clients an exceptional experience.

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