Michael Smollan
Michael Smollan

Post-pandemic stores of the future

by Michael Smollan. Amidst the pandemic scramble, retailers with the strongest and most durable supply chains, have come out tops.

by Michael Smollan. I always used to think the store of the future would be some derivative of Hema Fresh in China – a seamless combination of an in store experience with digital content, a dash of click and collect and a light touch of F&B (find and buy). Where omnichannel was the holy grail and that retailers just needed to see the light to understand the change as the silver bullet was fired for physical retail’s survival.

Maybe this is still the case in part with the knock that physical retail experienced with COVID-19 shoving it into the future – ready or not – as we continue to see the shifts from a consumer perspective. For example, consumers have chosen reliability over luxury as we see the uptick in well-made local produce versus internationally mass produced widely-distributed goods. Consumers have realised that a local niche producer is now more relevant, tracking them down through the amplification of ecommerce and social media. If this is the case, then retailers need to change their supplier approach. Standard agreements and terms can’t follow a blanket application, instead a more supportive, partnered, and nurturing way of doing business will need to be adopted to welcome ‘small local’ that can transform into ‘large local’. Where garage factories can become warehouses and employment opportunities align.

Amidst the pandemic scramble, those with the strongest and most durable supply chains, have put themselves front and centre to come out tops. Take Unilever’s factory in Kenya that pivoted to sanitiser when the country needed it most because they had invested in local supply chains and manufacturing. Going forward, those retailers which source from locally produced farms and factories, will have a far stronger supply chain heading into uncertain times and will be rewarded for their efforts.


This brings us to another growing head space – that of transparency. Starting in countries where food safety is not a certainty such as China, consumers want to know where their products are coming from. Have they been produced safely and sustainably; and in the case of meat products, humanely? The transparency of one’s supply chain gives retailers a massive edge in the consumer’s mind and while certain aspects are related to specific countries, it has become an in-demand questioning theme around the globe. The days of mindless mass consumerism is coming to an end, replaced by the need to build communities. Whether it’s a simple loyalty card that requires minimal effort for the purpose of targeting; or whether someone actually comes up with a CRM-type culture around their customer… My ongoing question is why Woolworth’s shoppers aren’t able to notify their store as to their imminent arrival so that a coffee is ready as one walks through the door?

As we rode the waves over the past 18 months, we have all bought, if not bootlegged, from a social media group with a budding entrepreneur delivering products with a smile. From small batch cocktails (outside of prohibition I assure you) to cheese, beer, underwear, gym equipment and the list goes on endlessly, or at least in my house it does. These dopamine hits feel doubly good as we are able to connect to a community by contributing to a smaller circle and feel rewarded as a customer. Big retail can do this too, they just need to try a little harder.

The retailers of the future are going to be those who are omnichannel, digital, phygital, clicked and bricked and whatever other weird and wonderful words they will be described as. Importantly, they will have to be local, reliable, transparent and community-based. These have been the themes of some of the greatest retailers over the past 200 years and it has taken a pandemic for me to realise that this could continue well into the future.


Main image credit: Photo by Laura Briola 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.