The massive shift in retail operations

by Amelia Beattie. The pandemic’s impact has forced the retail sector to quickly adapt, abruptly enforcing a point of no return.

by Amelia Beattie. COVID-19 provides an opportunity for the retail sector to redefine the space, as the pandemic weaves a thread through each trend the retail industry faces in 2021. In some cases, it is speeding up longstanding changes already apparent over many years, while in others it has sparked unexpected developments. Whatever changes this year brings will influence what retailers do and will reshape the industry.

The health crisis dogged the whole industry throughout 2020, wreaking havoc on retail operations. This has caused a massive shift, and the pandemic’s impact has forced the sector to quickly adapt, abruptly enforcing a point of no return. However, it is not all doom and gloom for smart retail – the sector offers opportunities in the recreation of customer experience post the pandemic. The growth of personalised retail experiences underscores a pivot to the customer. The first of these opportunities is striking the balance between rediscovering human contact in ‘brick ’n mortar’ and maximising the online experience through an omnichannel approach. While some may hold the view that the rise of ecommerce will eliminate the physical store, this is not quite the reality in South Africa where there is a slightly different take.

We have seen an increase in customer spend in quality, well-positioned malls as people look for an overall lifestyle experience. Rather than simply mirror the global view, we need to consider and reexamine how the digital and physical worlds combine in the future – with agility at the fore. To succeed – or even survive – in this newfound reality, the first step is to maximise smart data solutions, offering many insights that can be explored alongside traditional experiential strategies. There is a proliferation of digital solutions that bring convenience and frictionless experiences to customers and enhance operational efficiencies of tenants.

A longstanding customer expectation, amplified by the pandemic, is for customer experience to be consistent across all touchpoints, to ensure customer needs are being met wherever interaction occurs with brands.

Creating robust legacy assets

A second opportunity for retail to grasp is for environmentally sustainable approaches to the customer experience journey. By ‘building tomorrow’ together with customers, it is possible for both tenants and shoppers to make a positive and impactful change that aligns with the UN’s 2030 sustainable development goals. Behavioural change is a significant driver of minimising environmental impact and facilitating awareness. For instance, the retail property sector should be adamant on opportunities in the sector that promote the adoption of environmentally safe practices throughout operations – this includes green leases which govern energy efficiency, water consumption and waste management with tenant engagement at the core.

This is one way to align to a net zero goal and ensure robust assets that benefit multiple generations. A further step would be to implement educational programmes aimed at shoppers to change behaviours and join the movement to adopt climate positive practices in their everyday lives. The existence of retail rests on the premise of attracting increasing numbers of customers, therefore creating safe spaces is a third opportunity which should underpin all experiences within retail environments. Retail environments should always seek to act in the best interest of its tenants and shoppers and therefore exemplify the highest standards of hygiene, care and security.

With regards to safety and security of tenants, shoppers and mall employees – which is of utmost importance – retail should continuously seek to improve this element. This means the preservation of the buildings and environments, representing the investment and the maintenance of peace and order. This will ensure that disruptions to operations are well handled and by all reasonable means possible; and do not impact the safety and wellbeing of tenants, shoppers and employees. Safety and security also take accidents and health-related matters into consideration.

The health and wellbeing of customers and mall employees – currently achieved through  strategically placed sanitisation stations, deep cleaning measures, continuous fogging, physical distancing measures, touchless parking, kerb-side pick-ups, strategically placed decals to support Covid safety measures across various high-volume areas, and overall clean environments that are well managed – is vital. With this changed future firmly in place, many measures will more than likely be adopted for the long-term. The pandemic took its toll on the industry. However, its unlocked opportunities for the retail sector to be innovative while placing the consumer top of mind. Moving forward, the retail sector must transform and adapt the narrative.


Main image credit: Photo by Salah Alawadhi from Pexels.


Amelia Beattie is Chief Executive of Liberty Two Degrees.



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