CX is key to curbing retail casualties from COVID-19

by Nompumelelo Mokou. While COVID-19’s impact on the retail sector resulted in an abrupt shift in consumer behaviour, it also sparked a necessary (and swift) shift in business operations too.

by Nompumelelo Mokou. Is ecommerce going to replace bricks and mortar? The lockdown regulations have significantly accelerated ecommerce in the retail industry in Southern Africa, with several retailers achieving phenomenal growth results. Despite the growth and popularity of e-commerce, bricks and mortar is still relevant as it is perceived to heighten trust of brands and products. The socio-economic conditions and demographics of this market of logistics barriers, limited distribution warehouses and connectivity challenges, still necessitate brick and mortar retailers. Makro, for example, struggled with ecommerce; yet continues to play a prominent role as consumers appreciate the in store shopping experience.

Although there are various safe and secure payment platforms, some customers will still prefer to use cash. There should be a balance between ecommerce and bricks and mortar operating models – most clients have opted to reduce the number of physical outlets to key locations based on in store volume sales. The balance of ecommerce vs bricks and mortar between food retailers and clothing retailers will be different, because of the perceived brand and products trust; the shopping experience; the logistics and delivery capacity; preferences, etc. Having been to a few malls in Gauteng lately, it’s interesting to see the number of people in the mall, shopping and at restaurants, especially at month end. The social dynamics of buying and shopping experience are part of the bricks and mortar model which keep drawing high consumer volumes.

Retail post-pandemic

Retailers will have heightened online presence be it through applications, partnerships or other suppliers, such as OneCart, Netflorist, Take-A-Lot, Sixty60, and so on, supported by increased availability of safe and secure payment platforms. Our 2020 CXBR continues to emphasise a cloud first and mobile first as one of the key trends in the evolution of customer experience in the next five  years. The African region has experienced this as mobile applications are leading in ease of customer engagements, self-service platforms and mass adoption. This notion supports various research analysts who predict that click and mortar retailing models will be more prevalent as they enable online shopping with physical delivery to respond to perceived consumer trust.

Big retail outlets will see significant ROI in ecommerce investments, whilst smaller niche retailers like clothing boutiques and specialised pottery outlets need to improve consumer experience through personalisation or virtual/augmented reality, so customers can “feel” and trust products. Car manufacturers like Audi already announced in 2019 their digital migration plans that result in reduction of physical branches to personalised VR platforms that enhance targeted consumer experience, reduces lease and manufacturing costs through preordered production runs.

Consumer shifts 

Our 2020 CXBR still highlights that data analytics and management is a key aspect of customer experience. The retail industry has to have in depth understanding of:

  • Their customer demographics.
  • Their buying patterns.
  • Enabling easy shop and pay online models.
  • Continuous interaction with customers to enable co-creation and quick feedback loops.
  • Perceived brand loyalty.
  • Cancel culture triggers.

Understanding customers is still a critical element in enhancing customer experience, driving sales, improving product distribution and right marketing investments. The report further emphasises the importance of automated services through a balance of self-service and assisted service platforms.

Furthermore, personalised expert services where necessary, enable improved shopping experience. According to Gartner, customers ultimately want companies to ‘make them better, safer and more powerful’. Data, the understanding of data, and the correct use of data is powerful; it will enable retailers to differentiate themselves in the abyss of choice by pre-empting customer needs. Retailers need to work smart and have relevant partnerships, i.e., cosmetics retailers could partner with YouTube or Instagram video bloggers who are perceived experts in beauty products.


Nompumelelo Mokou is Intelligent Customer Experience Executive, Dimension Data. A Chartered Accountant by profession, she has always had a love for business. She has co-founded a project management company; been chair of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa, Soweto branch; and has headed up marketing and business development and finance in the past at various firms.


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