Dave Nemeth
Dave Nemeth

The retail journey towards 2025

by Dave Nemeth. The face of retail was destined to change a long time before the disruptions that 2020 threw into the mix.

by Dave Nemeth. The face of retail was destined to change a long time before the disruptions that 2020 threw into the mix. Many retailers, especially here in South Africa, have been struggling to survive for some time now and the past couple of years have seen many of them, once great names, ending up closing their doors. The reality is that retail cannot continue in the same way it has for decades. If you take a birds-eye view, the only major change has been the addition of online retailing.

The past 10 years in SA did not seem to see a slowdown in the development of new malls or large-scale additions and refurbishments of existing ones. The bubble was destined to burst with store assortment showing little differentiation from one mall to the next. The overall design of both mall and retail store has not evolved very much either. I was recently looking at early malls of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and, apart from how people are dressed, there is very little difference to today. I foresee some dramatic changes from now up until 2025, and these are some of the fundamental shifts I think we could see, not just locally but internationally as well.

Smaller stores or shared space

Most retailers will be looking at consolidating their space. Rents will continue to rise and, with an influx of sales online, it is no longer necessary for them to have the amount of floor space they have become accustomed to. Those who cannot get out of lengthy leases will look at sharing the space and related costs with businesses that are completely un-related in any way. These partners may include things such as postal services or optometrists inside clothing stores. Malls will also have unlikely entrants into their spaces such as car dealerships, fitment centres and even smaller niche, private tertiary institutions. Bundling products and services together is another way to increase store engagement.

International furniture stores such as Wayfair and IKEA have started incorporating home installation services into their offerings. IKEA did this by purchasing TaskRabbit, a platform that connects consumers with service providers which can do things like assemble furniture and install appliances.

Advanced customisation

Customisation has been a buzzword for retailers for some years now but, except for a few footwear brands, this has struggled to get traction due to the limited offering, as well as limited marketing. People are no longer driven by the trends in glossy magazines as they search for uniqueness and differentiation in a post mass-production era. This will include both products and services as it is all about choice, and those companies which can offer customisable, affordable offerings, will certainly see the results. This goes as far as chain stores having a certain amount of unique product in each and every store; something that will drive traffic from one area to another whilst visiting the same retail brand.

Customisation can be costly, and difficult to execute, but that is why the next point is so applicable. By allowing customers to construct their own products is another way in which they can benefit from this concept of customisation. An excellent example of product-building in action comes from Dresden, an eyewear retailer and healthcare provider. Dresden takes plastic waste from Australian beaches and discarded fishing nets and upcycles them into affordable frames. Dresden lets shoppers create their own pairs of sunglasses by enabling them to interchange the lenses and frame parts (which come in a variety of colours and sizes). The result? Shoppers can purchase eyewear that’s unique, stylish, and environment friendly (source: www.vend.com).

Local supply

Increasing, product ranges manufactured by smaller local artisans and designers will eventually become more popular. Consumers have a newfound affinity to buy local products and support local manufacture, design and services. This will not just happen here in South Africa, but globally as well. We have already seen this taking place in the food market as smaller independent vendors are afforded the ability to sell their goods to larger retail outlets. This will require a different approach to traditional retailing, due to the fact that these producers cannot supply the quantities that the normal channels do.

There will also have to be adjustments made in the payment terms as these smaller local vendors will only survive if payments are made sooner, and not over 60 or 90 days. Selling locally and regionally produced products will also increase community interaction, something that online retail cannot achieve. The benefits of the above are immense and could be the solution to stores continually having unique and limited products; as well as boosting the local job market and the economy. The days of ordering 70-90% of products en masse from China are coming to an end and, although trade with China will never die, the current model just isn’t sustainable whilst economies around the world are having to rebuild.

Novelty experiences

Innovative, novelty aspects within retail will also help put brands in the spotlight and gain people’s attention. Some overseas stores do monthly treasure hunts where, for a very limited time, certain once-off products are available in their stores. Having to search for these items amongst the aisles just adds a real-life gamification aspect to the experience. The term “retailtainment” is starting to surface and refers to retailers adding unique entertainment aspects into their environments at certain limited times. This can vary from celebrity autograph signings; to unique performances by artists, with limited-edition merchandise being sold at these unique events.

At the top-level, these things may appear to be the most obvious, but as the retail industry fights for survival, we can expect many more interesting twists and turns within the entire retail experience.


Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is trend forecaster and business consultant at Trend Forward, and a design thinker, innovator, business re-designer, trend analyst, keynote speaker and writer.


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