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How to save independent brick-and-mortar retail

Edcon has gone into business rescue and many American retailers have done the same, namely J. Crew, and many soon will follow around the world. But the real tragedy is the millions of small mom and pop independent retailers that are coming under pressure under Covid-related containment measures. Even when the ‘new normal’ comes back, consumers will be returning with much tighter budgets, if they have jobs at all.

While many fear that health concerns will keep people away from retail stores, last the weekend the shopping center I visited was filled with thousands of people, with everybody wearing facemasks and all stores drenching us with hand sanitizer. Even so, the fact is that online retail will explode in the post-pandemic world.

In 2018, roughly 1.8 billion people around the globe purchased $2.8 trillion worth of goods online, according to Statista. And by 2021, global e-retail sales *were* expected to grow to $4.8 trillion. I haven’t seen reliable data since the pandemic started, but we can expect accelerated adoption of e-commerce by buyers and sellers in the ‘new world’.

Consumers have basically been forced to adopt e-commerce over as a result of containment measures in most countries. As countless eCommerce newcomers find online buying increasingly convenient and easy, and e-commerce retailers providing better customer experiences, this transition is only likely to accelerate.

What should retailers be doing?

(1) Adopt e-commerce channels: Set up an online store, set up your marketing channels such as SEO and email campaigns, and adopt automated fulfillment options. You can also sell (and publish books) through Amazon quite easily. We can set up your online store in just a couple of hours, the online marketing in a few days. Automating fulfillment is a bit harder, but essential for scaling.

(2) List on Personal Shopper Services: In South Africa, OneCart and Zulzui currently are designed for food, but non-food personal shopping will become 'a thing' very soon. Imagine your body butter being delivered alongside books and candles right to your door, for the price of parking. Many consumers will choose E-Tailers rather than going to the mall.

(3) Add an Exponential Tech to your offering: The retail industry is in the initial stages of an era that will dominated by virtual reality, augmented reality, spatial web technologies, and 3D printing. Whether it’s virtual try-on capacity, AR-overlaid information on the physical assets in your field of view, or your own AI personal shopper, retail is at a historic turning point. For retailers, now is the time to redefine it.

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