#HOPE: Downward cycles do eventually swing upwards

By Astrid Ascar, WTSA Chief Growth Officer. Find hope in the fact that all downward cycles do eventually swing upwards. Find hope in the fact that the future shopper will shop in very different ways.

By Astrid Ascar, Wunderman Thompson SA Chief Growth Officer. There are so many factors contributing to the current numbers coming out of the retail sector – the global economy is showing signs of pressure from high energy prices and inflation, more global interest rates are starting to climb, and there’s local retail price inflation – and they’re all contributing to an overall slowdown for retailers. Some sectors within retail are more affected than others; and this is a function of both the product they sell, the point-of-sale location, and levels of disposable income amongst SA households.

Astrid Ascar

We cannot control macroeconomic factors, but we can take a step back and take stock. At times like these, retailers can choose to take the opportunity to re-prioritise strategic areas of focus. Multiple studies have shown how share-of-mind is impacted when marketing cutbacks are implemented. Take this time to look inward, redefine the value derived from marketing efforts, and don’t fall into the trap of equating advertising with marketing. Advertising is just one tactic in an entire basket of today’s marketing portfolio, so while there may be a need for some budget cutbacks, think carefully about where those cutbacks happen.

Today’s landscape is about a convergence between creative, commerce, technology and data. They’re all dimensions of today’s marketing mix… and we’re only scratching the surface of the somewhat seismic shifts in future consumer expectations and behaviour. Pulling back on key marketing efforts that could ultimately help a retailer navigate the convergence may prove short-sighted in the long term. Paying attention to data strategies, technology solutions, marketing technology software, making the customer experience more seamless, and designing your services around omnichannel behaviours will lay the foundation for emerging with a more future-fit presence when the downturn shifts back upwards.

Where to find hope

Find hope in the fact that all downward cycles do eventually swing upwards. Find hope in the fact that we have more than enough evidence showing us that the future shopper will shop in very different ways – now is the perfect time to recraft strategies and lay the foundations for this future.  A slowdown affords retailers an opportunity to get to grips with the new industry-speak, to truly interrogate what customer experience means for their brand and their online and in-store experiences; and to use this period to gain the upper hand by affecting the appropriate enhancements to everything that impacts a customer’s experience.

This is not a finite once-off project – it’s an ongoing cycle of continuous improvement that requires tapping into accurate and clean data that can inform future approaches to what you ‘do’ in-store and what you offer ‘online’ – push the button now. Clean up multiple databases that don’t ‘talk’ to each other, take this time to reconsider what a future brick-and-mortar presence should offer, and take the time to gain as much insight as possible on how shopping behaviour is shifting.

The positive lies in the fact that re-prioritising strategic marketing goals are not a rushed, forced strategic pivot brought on by an unexpected – unimaginable lockdown or global pandemic – but that it’s a very rare opportunity affording leaders the gift of time to think properly about their businesses and how to make them future-fit. When the cycle turns, retailers which have done this will be far better prepared and positioned to service changes in consumer demand.


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