Michael Smollan
Michael Smollan

Why aren’t retailers pushing vaccinations?

by Michael Smollan. No retailer took the proverbial bull by the horns and pushed the vaccination envelope. Why not?

by Michael Smollan. When I wrote this column a couple of weeks ago, we had roughly 16,000 active cases at a national level, which may well have been the lowest sustained level since the start of Covid. And with Boeing-loads of tourists headed our way, life seemed to be pretty much returning to normal, except for the all-important face mask and sanitising protocols.

It would be easy to start writing off this pandemic as a part of our history that is now seemingly only a shadow. The truth is, we know this pandemic comes in waves and it’s only a matter of time before the swell starts rising again (as we saw in a matter of days last week). The only question is, will we get enough needles in arms by the time it does, to comfortably ride it out; or will it invariably dump us headfirst into the sand? Time will tell.

In the meantime, physical retailers are at war. They’re at war with sales numbers. Not only because more people have been exposed to ecommerce than ever before in human history; but they are also hopefully fighting the tail end of the pandemic which means trying to get shoppers back into physical stores. The difficulty is with mere weeks until Christmas if you are a brand, or a retailer for that matter, do you put your marketing dollars behind physical or digital? You know the volume is in physical – but if the wave crests, you know the market will shift to digital. For now, it’s a case of committing to a current with all its ebbs and flows and hoping you picked the right one.

The thing that perplexes me the most, is that this problem was always going to arise. The moment December 25, 2020, came and went, it was a race to the same date of the next year – yet no retailer took the proverbial bull by the horns and pushed the vaccination envelope. I have always maintained, since the moment vaccinations became available, that if the government gave the vaccination program to Shoprite to rollout, the entire continent would be done and dusted and they would’ve seen a 15% sales bump to top it.

As expected, the government tried to do it themselves and we now find ourselves in this 30-odd- percent-vaccination-plateau, with little indication that it’s on the rise. This is where we find ourselves today, where festive season trading and vaccinations collide. More physical foot traffic means more physical sales, so you would think the physical retailers, no matter how damn good Checkers Sixty60 is, would have had a vested interest in the success of the vaccination rollout.

Vested interest

Several companies did get in on the deal with undoubtedly the best intentions. Nando’s donated 1,000 vouchers of R500 each that were awarded to healthcare workers for the best performing vaccination teams. Uber provided a R100 trip to transport healthcare workers to pop-up vaccination sites on election day, and as part of a new R26 million pilot scheme, R100 grocery ‘vooma vouchers’ are being given to people over 60 who get vaccinated in November and who shop at Shoprite and Checkers.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I would’ve thought that certainly one or two or all of the big retailers would’ve done the ‘Discovery thing’, and said ‘for the safety of our people – shoppers, employees, and other stakeholders – we require that you are vaccinated at our cost’. For sure, this would have created chaos for a while, but if spun correctly, I think there could have been some real brand brownie points to be had by showcasing an employer willing to cover the costs and protect their people. Not only that, but I think government would have been supportive, and even unions would have backed this horse, and there would’ve been a clear leader come Christmas. All assuming of course in theory, that when the next wave hits, that the store or brand that chose this route,  would be able to offer safe harbour.

To be fair, a lot of this is assumption and I am probably vastly overestimating the number of intelligent people wanting to get vaccinated, insult intended here. The truth is I don’t know. However, I have a feeling that until the festive season numbers are done, there are going to be a few anxious brands, retailers, and consumers out there.


Main image credit: Pixabay.com.


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.


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