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Traditional retailers can find edge through digital

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Changing consumer shopping habits are quietly transforming the retail industry, according to Bevan Ducasse, CEO wiGroup.

He said shoppers increasingly crave instant gratification and personalised service. Gone are the days when consumers walked into retail stores without doing independent research on products beforehand.

"With the traditional retail landscape also disrupted by the arrival of online-only stores, the question now is how do traditional retailers fight back, what do consumers really want, and what’s the best way to achieve this?" asked Ducasse.  

"The physical and digital worlds are rapidly merging in the retail sector, driven by technological innovations and a hyper-connected world. The reality is that consumers have evolved. They are living fast-paced lives, they want convenience and they want something that adds value to their lives. Technology will only serve to further entrench this mind set."

Consumers have changed in other significant ways too. They expect customised service, have abandoned brand loyalty, and are always searching for deals that offer the best value for money.

"With South African consumer confidence at its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2000, retailers need to adapt their business strategies and place the consumer’s needs first," explained Ducasse.

To him the answer lies in the customer experience.

"As digital weaves itself deeper into the fabric of our lives, smart retailers understand that making the most of new opportunities is not about gadgets or technology - it’s about human nature. Retailers should be looking at how they are interweaving digital tools into delivering top-end customer service. When used well, the technology becomes invisible. Customers simply see retailers as being very good at giving them exactly what they want," said Ducasse.

Mobile devices have also completely changed the buying experience. Couch commerce is a growing phenomenon, as consumers gather data about the pros and cons of products, retailers and prices via their mobile device before even getting off their couch, let alone entering a shop.

With mobile technology opening up a world of innovation, there is a growing appetite for digital integration amongst South Africa’s biggest retailers, he pointed out. This doesn’t simply mean offering a replica store online. Consumers want an enriched shopping experience.

Another of the big retail trends making headway in the US is the use of location based technologies. Research shows that almost half of shoppers want to receive mobile coupons and promotions when nearby or in-store.

"Online and in-store retail is blending so closely together that the distinction between the two is becoming irrelevant. Traditional stores should still focus on appealing to modern shoppers by updating their bricks-and-mortar model instead of competing head-on in the digital arena with their online counterparts,"  said Ducasse.

However, he cautions that the key for traditional retailers lies in finding an edge through digital innovation, while still offering an unbeatable customised in-store experience.

"This is something online retailers can’t do, and it gives traditional retailers a strong competitive edge," said Ducasse.

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