Sizwe Dlamini
Sizwe Dlamini

Innovative disruption is needed to transform ecommerce

by Sizwe Dlamini. Some retailers see digital as an opportunity to shape a lasting sustainable business model.

by Sizwe Dlamini. The retail industry is rife with digital innovation disruption and organisational change. Consumers – drawn to the ease and convenience of always being just a click away from user reviews, comparison pricing, and endless aisles – have come to rely on online and mobile shopping. It is no surprise that traditional retailers are bringing digital channels into stores to tap those consumer preferences.

At the core of digital for any retailer is a wider ability to build a culture of collaboration, the capability of using data to break through functional and organisational boundaries, the art of using technology to unearth new possibilities for enhanced customer value and in the process completely reimagine the store of the future. ‘Innovative disruption’ encompasses the ability of an organisation to anticipate a customer’s needs, passionately falling in love with the customer and creating a market where none existed. The rapid pace of such disruptions mostly shakes up established traditional business models and transforms the earlier known rules of success or growth in today’s digitally connected world. This is especially true in retail, as technology is getting intertwined and becoming seamless in both B2B as well as B2C experiences.

The impact of digital on the front end of the retail value chain is significant and revolves around ‘The Digital Customer’ experience as the key focus. As retailers grow and evolve, they need to refine their business model to changes in the environment which offer them opportunities to enhance customer engagement and improve the overall shopping experience. Digital will be one such critical disruptor that is expected to have a profound impact on shoppers and retailers.

This technological evolution of ecommerce, digital and mobile wallets, mobility, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, emergence of social media, real-time analytics and automated personalisation, has completely changed the way retail business is being conducted. With the current times, the retail outlets are now going digital by introducing virtual trial rooms, augmented reality, and the use of artificial intelligence. The idea is not just to optimise the in store experience, but also to offer a combination of aids that can help consumers to take the right purchase decision.

A disruptive era

With this backdrop and booming outlook for growth, the retail sector in South Africa is clearly poised to become one of the largest beneficiaries of the disruptive era that has begun. Digital has helped build a parallel narrative of varied concepts, but digital with no story, is merely technology with nowhere to go. The ‘How’ is equally important and the focus is heavily weighted on brand storytelling in the digital sphere. Consumers are looking for a collaborative mindset and at building relationships with the new generation of inter-connected customers who want to be involved in co-creation of products/ services.

Retailers have seemingly headed towards one of the two options in response to the digital opportunities. A vast majority have seen digital as an enabler of better customer service or greater operational efficiency and have hence implemented many digital technologies to improve their performance on these parameters.

However, there have been a few retailers who have truly awoken to the possibilities presented by Digital. They have seen digital as an opportunity to shape a lasting sustainable business model which is a complete breakaway from the paradigms of the past. Integral to this digital approach is the stories that lie behind the brand and how to integrate them into the long-term digital business model, with the objective of maximising customer lifetime value and not just focussing on the transactional approach. Digital provides opportunities for retailers to acquire new customers, engage better with existing customers, reduce the cost of operations, and improve employee motivation along with various other benefits that have a positive influence from a revenue and margin perspective.

Part of the solution involves greater use of ‘big data’ and associated technology to enable a better, more holistic understanding of the exact location of individual stock items. In order to achieve this more granular understanding of who is looking at what and where they are moving, if not to your specific product, is an essential technological investment in the process.

Both traditional stores and online retailers are working towards the same goal: to create a highly personalised, consistent, and integrated shopping experience across all points of contact between them and ‘The Digital Customers’. Brands that support and assist in this transformation, will in turn be in step with the retailers who are looking at fast moving profitable products.


Sizwe Dlamini is head of commercial at Idea Hive –  brand storytellers and a digital agency headquartered in Johannesburg.



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