Michael Smollan
Michael Smollan

Retail is not a straight line, it is an ecosystem

by Michael Smollan. Why is retail not being designed from the ground up as an omnichannel experience?

by Michael Smollan. I think we can all agree the days of the linear approach of going to a store to buy a product, and at point of purchase deciding whether or not to actually spend money on said item or not, are history. We now do our research on various forums using multiple digital touchpoints that allow us to make up our minds on what and where we want to buy. Quite often we use the in-store experience to physically view the product before pulling the proverbial trigger – either online or in person.

The question is how physical retail is able to compete and exist within it all? The answer, though extraordinarily complex, is by operating in an ecosystem. I could never understand how it was possible that when I went to a department store like Edgars ‘in the olden days’ that typically, they were out of what I deemed normal – my 9½ shoe size – and more importantly, they couldn’t tell me when they would be receiving more stock. If I wanted a particular shoe, it meant having to return multiple times until they became available. That, or I would write my number on a scrappy till slip that I knew never made it further than the cashiers dustbin.

Imagine if the store stock was linked to the warehouse stock and to the person on the shop floor  (who was never there, but that’s a whole other can of worms), who in turn was able to simply check the stock levels in the warehouse, or even better at the supplier. My address would then be plugged in, apologies made for the inconvenience, and my eagerly awaited shoes dispatched to my home within 48 hours. That would’ve kept me coming back for sure.

Omnichannel experience

Today all of this and so much more is possible. I think of HEMA in China as I watched their stores being built from the ground up, designed for an omnichannel experience, but more importantly to accommodate a new type of shopper – the ecosystem enabled one. Seamless click and collect mingling with in-store browsing around the supply chain, be it beef or tea, resulting in an enriching shopping experience. The ability to preload a shopping list that would be ready for you whenever you wanted – whether on arrival or if you preferred, after taking a walk through the store to see what’s new. The joy of talking to a farmer manning the produce or the butcher sections talking one through the cuts of meat (okay the last two I embellish on, but you get the point), means it becomes all about theatre and the enjoyment of shopping; and in the end the basket size and repeat purchase frequency.

Retail can no longer be designed just around physical and digital, this much we know. Why then is retail not being designed from the ground up as an omnichannel experience where my data is shared with my consent instead of begrudgingly, to simplify my lifestyle? Where retail uses the massive amount of knowledge it has about me and my family to tell me for example, if I am about to run out of soy sauce so I don’t go flaming mad when I have sushi but no sauce. Or that my almond milk stash is running low and a flag raised in order to replenish stock or questions asked around whether I want a six-pack delivered to my house because its Monday as ‘the system’ intuitively knows I only shop for groceries on the weekend.

The brilliant Brazilian retail business, Home Refill, comes to mind where their purpose is to remove the mundane replenishment part of shopping, to allow you the shopping part of shopping. It begs questions around why do we not already live in a world where the barista at Woolies knows my order before I get there because ‘the system’ has enquired whether or not I am still coming shopping on Sunday and asks if I would like a coffee on arrival?

I really do believe that part of the reason that some players are streets ahead is that they think of retail in three dimensions versus the traditional two. Those which have started thinking about the customer experience and the best possible route to purchase, have built a retail ecosystem around customer purchase patterns by using physical and digital in tandem with a sprinkling of customer data on top. This is the only way that customers’ ever increasing needs will continue to be met, and dare we even imagine it, exceeded.


Main image credit: Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash.


Michael Smollan is Chief Growth & Innovation Officer of Smollan. Smollan is a leading retail solutions company that delivers growth for retailers and brand owners across five continents by covering every aspect of how their brand is managed at the point of purchase, from field sales to in store and digitally. Smollan partners with brand owners and retailers to deliver accelerated growth by increasing reach, driving availability and visibility, increasing efficiency and delivering superior shopper experiences; operating across emerging and developed markets, in modern and general trade, and across physical and digital channels.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Wednesday • Subscribe here.