Kirsty Bisset
Kirsty Bisset

Retail tech trends revolutionising SA shopping

By Kirsty Bisset, HYH Durban MD. As consumer expectations continue to evolve, retailers are embracing innovative technologies to enhance the shopping experience and stay ahead of the competition.

By Kirsty Bisset, HYH Durban MD. Technology has become an integral part of our lives, and the retail industry in South Africa is no exception. As consumer expectations continue to evolve, retailers are embracing innovative technologies to enhance the shopping experience and stay ahead of the competition.

Kirsty Bisset
Contactless payments – a safer and convenient alternative

Contactless payments have gained immense popularity in South Africa, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a simple tap or wave of a card or smartphone, customers can complete transactions quickly and securely, without the need for physical contact. Retailers have adopted contactless payment solutions, such as near-field communication (NFC) technology, to provide a safer and more convenient shopping experience for their customers.

Several factors have contributed to the rapid growth of contactless payments in South Africa:

  • Enhanced Security and Safety: Contactless payments utilise advanced encryption technologies, making them secure and reducing the risk of fraud. The added safety factor has been particularly appealing to consumers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it reduces the need for physical contact with payment terminals.
  • Convenience and Speed: Contactless payments offer a quick and seamless transaction experience. With a simple tap or wave of a card or smartphone, consumers can complete purchases within seconds, eliminating the need to handle cash or enter a PIN.
  • Infrastructure Development: The increasing availability and acceptance of contactless payment terminals across a wide range of retailers, including supermarkets, restaurants, and public transportation, have facilitated the growth of this payment method. The expansion of contactless-enabled point-of-sale (POS) systems has made it more accessible for consumers to use contactless payments.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) shopping experiences

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies have opened up new possibilities for immersive and interactive shopping experiences. South African retailers are leveraging these technologies to provide customers with virtual store tours, allowing them to browse products and visualise them in a virtual environment. AR is also being used to overlay digital information on real-world products, enabling customers to try on virtual clothes or visualise how furniture would look in their homes.

A pair of innovative, digital beauty experiences were launched by Woolworths in 2021. Virtual Try On and Virtual Consultations, are designed to help consumers reinvent their beauty shopping experience at home and gain more confidence before making a purchase. The feature creates realistic applications of these products through augmented reality that can be tested on any skin tone and allows customers to assess textures, colours and looks.

AI-driven personalisation for enhanced customer engagement

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionising the way retailers understand and engage with their customers. Through the use of AI algorithms, retailers can collect and analyse vast amounts of customer data to gain insights into their preferences, behaviours, and purchase patterns. This data enables retailers to deliver personalised recommendations, tailored promotions, and targeted marketing campaigns, creating a more personalised and engaging shopping experience for each individual customer.

Consumers know all too well that certain brands do not always run true to size, so Superbalist launched Fit Finder – a tool that allows consumers to answer questions about size and brand in order to make accurate sizing choices. As a result, Fit Finder suggests the correct size based on these responses, along with records of sales and returns.

Mobile apps and digital loyalty programs

Mobile apps have become an essential tool for retailers to connect with their customers. Retailers in South Africa are developing mobile apps that offer features such as personalised offers, in-app shopping, and seamless integration with loyalty programs. By providing a convenient and user-friendly platform, retailers can engage with customers directly, offer exclusive deals, and reward their loyalty, ultimately fostering long-term customer relationships.

Smart shelves and automated inventory management

South African retailers are adopting smart shelf technology and automated inventory management systems to streamline operations and improve efficiency. Smart shelves utilise sensors and RFID technology to monitor product availability in real-time, enabling retailers to restock items promptly and reduce out-of-stock situations. Automated inventory management systems leverage data analytics to optimise inventory levels, minimise waste, and ensure better stock accuracy, leading to improved customer satisfaction and operational cost savings.

Future of retail tech locally

As technology continues to advance, the future of retail in South Africa holds even more exciting possibilities. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are expected to reshape the retail landscape further. Retailers will increasingly leverage data-driven insights and automation to optimise their operations, improve supply chain management, and deliver highly personalised shopping experiences.

The integration of technology into the retail sector is revolutionising the shopping experience in South Africa. From contactless payments and virtual reality shopping to AI-driven personalisation and smart inventory management, retailers are harnessing the power of technology to meet evolving customer expectations and drive growth. Embracing these retail tech trends allows retailers to enhance convenience, engage customers on a deeper level, and differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace. As technology continues to evolve, the South African retail industry will undoubtedly witness further innovation and transformation in the years to come.


Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter weekly • Subscribe here.