Dave Nemeth
Dave Nemeth

The theatre and drama that retail needs now

by Dave Nemeth. The way in which consumers shop has changed drastically over the past few months. This is what retailers need to do.

by Dave Nemeth. It is a reality that the way in which consumers shop has changed drastically over the past few months. Based on this, retailers seem to have streamlined their product range and many items which were on shelves, pre-Covid, are no longer available.

These are just some of the changes being reported through a variety of global studies, and include:

  • Increased confidence in online shopping.
  • Less frequent trips to brick and mortar stores.
  • Smaller basket size when visiting brick and mortar stores.
  • An overall decrease in spending.

It is obvious that retailers want to limit risk and preserve cash flow by limiting the variety of their products, but I feel this could be suicidal as shoppers are getting bored. No matter how great the shopping experience inside a physical store may be, a lack of interesting merchandise will see a high percentage of potential spenders leaving empty-handed. The bottom line is that everything and anything can be sourced via internet shopping, so retailers need to adopt a more experimental mind-set when it comes to their assortment planning.

Something to bear in mind is that the average consumer is needing something different; and when they do leave the house to shop, they want variety. This goes across the board; from liquor merchants to general retailers and even speciality stores, which have adopted a streamlined approach. Retailers which start adding interesting categories and differentiated products into their range will more than likely begin to see an increase in foot traffic, as well as overall basket size. Clever presentation of products displayed in an enticing way, enhanced with a splash of novelty, will create excitement and intrigue for today’s consumer.

Here is an example: I spend a lot of time trawling the malls and analysing retail stores, from window displays to store design; in fact as much detail as I can possibly digest to try and understand why some brands are flourishing whilst others just don’t seem to attract the same enthusiasm from shoppers. I was recently at Mall of Africa and decided to visit two of my favourite stores, namely TYPO and CNA. I have a passion for stationery and always enjoyed the vast product assortment available at CNA stores. I could easily spend an hour in their branches looking at their vast range of magazines, their great stationery and craft offering; as well as their cleverly designed section with toys, alongside top-selling books. CNA was, in fact, the perfect place to find a gift for almost any occasion.

On this particular visit, just a few weeks back, I found TYPO full of people (by today’s standards anyway, as they do adhere to strict social distancing measures). TYPO is by no means cheap, but very few people were leaving empty-handed. I include myself here. I also noticed that people probably spent a minimum of 30 minutes in store, which is a long time for such a small space. My next stop was CNA and I almost walked right past the store without even noticing it because the store was so dark that I wasn’t actually sure they were open. They would do themselves a favour in getting a lighting specialist involved who could provide great lighting in an energy-efficient way. On entering, it seemed as if they had stripped away everything that used to appeal to my senses and become completely utilitarian in their offering. In all fairness, I am aware that the brand was bought over from the now bankrupt Edcon group. Although I have read the reports about their new strategy, from the new shareholders and CEO Benjamin Trisk, who is credited as the retailing guru who turned Exclusive Books around some years back, I feel it is not enough for this brand to flourish (I hope I am wrong).

Curate a better retail offering

One of the biggest disappointments for me was their limited offering of stationery and craft products. I think the craft category is destined for great growth, as discerning parents will encourage children to create again, in a world where home-schooling and digital education are becoming the order of the day. Adults themselves, find solace in arts and crafts as an escape from their forced digital lifestyle. In general, it seems consumers have an ongoing interest in crafting…. The global Arts and Crafts market, valued at 41590 million USD in 2020 is expected to reach 54530 million USD by the end of 2026, growing at a CAGR of 3.9% during 2021-2026 (source: www.marketwatch.com). The reality is that Exclusive Books, post Benjamin Trisk, has a more exciting offering of stationery when compared to that of CNA. According to Trisk, there will be a big focus on African Literature, which I think is a huge opportunity, but it will take time to get traction and, if this is going to be done to the detriment of the other categories, they may not enjoy the luxury of seeing it succeed.

This is just one example of the way in which naive buying by retailers will affect sales going forward. They will need to start looking at every product category and strategise as to how they can improve their range by offering other products which are different, but nevertheless related and enticingly curated. The clothing sector is by no means exempt, and clever merchandising could assist in achieving increased sales. Imagine going into a clothing store and, as you get to their latest summer leisure wear display; the offering is complemented with a few recipe books containing enticing summer recipes, as well as a picnic basket, a few picnic blankets, dog leashes and bandanas all in similar or complementary prints? They could also have funky phone covers and laptop bags following the same theme; and even a vinyl record or two with great summer anthems. As ridiculous as this assortment may seem, it is the mindset change required for enticing a bored post-Covid consumer to your store and, more importantly, increasing the basket size. You are now selling a lifestyle and no longer just a summer skirt, and you have taken ownership of the season.

I cannot think of a retail category which is excluded from this “new thinking”. This is the theatre and drama that retail needs now.


Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is trend forecaster and business consultant at Trend Forward, and a design thinker, innovator, business re-designer, trend analyst, keynote speaker and writer.



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