Tag: retail

By Londiwe Buthelezi for News24

Hyprop Investments says it had a negative reversion rate of 22.7% in the six months to 31 December 2020, reducing its monthly rental income by approximately R5 million.

The company’s retail vacancies increased to 3% while office vacancies stood at 16.2% at the end of December 2020.

Hyprop’s retail vacancies are lower than some of its peers, but its offices are much more empty.

The owner of Canal Walk and Rosebank Mall, Hyprop Investments, says it is receiving R5 million less in monthly rental income for leases that expired recently. This as vacancies rise, putting pressure on landlords to accept lesser rental rates than they did before Covid-19.

The property group – which also owns few office buildings, including those that are part of Hyde Park and Canal Walk shopping malls – said during the announcement of its financial results on Monday that it recorded an average negative reversion rate of 22.7% in the six months to 31 December 2020.

A reversion rate measures the extent to which landlords were able to increase rental rates for expiring leases that were renewed. A negative reversion rate shows lower rental rates than before.

In the six months to December, Hyprop renewed and signed new leases for 11.2% of its gross leasable retail space, or just shy of 75 000 square metres, and this is where the negative reversions were recorded.

“This equates to a reduction in monthly rental income of circa R5 million (equivalent to 2.4% of the average monthly rental). There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of tenants who are reluctant to commit to longer-term leases until economic conditions improve,” wrote Hyprop in the results announcement.

The company also noted that new leases were shorter by 4.1 years on average while those tenants who were renewing also shortened their lease terms by an average of 3.2 years. These tenants will also be paying lower rent in the future than what Hyprop is used to as the annual escalations decreased to 6.5% from 7.2% in the period ended in December 2019.

Hyprop, however, fared better than some of its peers when it comes to having empty malls. The company said vacancies in its SA retail portfolio increased to 3% in December 2020 from 2.4% in June. In comparison, Liberty2Degrees reported a vacancy rate of 4.7% in its retail portfolio at the end of December 2020 while Emira Property Fund’s retail vacancy rate stood 3.4%.

However, the same cannot be said for Hyprop’s office vacancies, which stood at 16.2% at the end of December – notably higher than the national average of 13.3% for the fourth quarter of 2020 that was reported by the South Africa Property Owners’ Association.

Hyprop’s office vacancies were also higher than those of all the other peers that recently reported their numbers, including Redefine (14.7%), Emira (14.9%), and Liberty Two Degrees (12.4%).

Sandton City sees a spike in luxury purchases

By Londiwe Buthelezi for Fin24

The owner of Sandton City says footfall at the country’s premier shopping centre recovered to 87% of pre-lockdown levels on weekends in October.

Its other big malls, such as Eastgate in the East Rand and Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg are recording more customer visits on weekends than they did before the lockdown.

And what have people been frequenting the malls for? Looking at retailers’ turnover in Liberty Two Degrees’ malls, they have been shopping for luxury and tech goods, as well as more obvious grocery and supermarket items.

In fact, luxury brands contributed 8.1% towards total turnover at L2D malls even though they only account for less than 1% of mall space. The rapid recovery in demand for luxury brands is defying expectations in a country where over 43% of people are now unemployed if you include discouraged jobseekers after 2.2 million more people lost their jobs in the third quarter.

But a 10 point improvement in consumer confidence in the three months to end-September – after it reached a 33-year low in June as shown by the FNB/BER Consumer Confidence Index – was perhaps a telling sign that those who still have the ability to spend will gradually go back to their shopping habits.

L2D said the recovery for luxury brands was driven by domestic demand.

But while people are out shopping for luxury items again, they aren’t yet flocking to hotels. L2D said the Sandton Sun hotel is currently the only hotel in its portfolio that is operational. But its occupancy rate still stood at 30.9% in September, 10 percentage points above the 20.9% recorded in August.

The Sandton Intercontinental Towers, Garden Court and the Convention Centre have been closed since March 2020. But it’s not only hotels that are giving L2D a headache. The company said vacancies across its property portfolio increased again from 6.1% in August 2020 to 7.6% in October. Office vacancies increased to 15.1% by the end of October 2020, with Melrose Arch being the most affected.

“The effects of Covid-19 continue to drive the downsizing of office space,” wrote L2D in a trading update released on Friday.

The retail vacancy rate also continued to increase with Eastgate Mall being the largest contributor. But the company said its team had secured leases for further 900 square metres of space, which will reduce the Eastgate’s vacancy from 7.0% to 6.3% in the fourth quarter.

Image credit: Michael Turner

The evolution of retail in a post-pandemic world

The rhetoric of ‘retail is dead’ is incorrect. In fact, retail is advancing at a rapid rate to meet the consumer demands for in-store innovation and service solutions for their shopping requirements in this post-Covid era.

This was the view of industry thought leaders who participated in the Fortress Retail Evolution webinar that took place recently. This online event was hosted by Mike Stopforth and included a panel discussion between Vuso Majija, Alex Morar, Tshiamo Mathibela and Richard Mukheibir, as well as commentary from other retail experts.

A key insight shared by Graeme Codrington is that the pandemic has accelerated a lot of the trends that were already underway. “E-commerce is one of the biggest trends at this time, but it’s not merely about putting your products online and then hoping somebody buys them. It is not competition to traditional retail; it extends and expands traditional retail. You need to develop relationships with your consumers and then personalise your connection with them through the right in-store experiences that gives them reasons to keep coming back– it’s not just sales.”

When discussing the innovations that are in play at this time, Vuso Majija explained how the tenant mixes are evolving and changing in response to changes in customer behaviour. “Pre-Covid-19, we saw space consolidation by tenants, including the closure of non-performing stores. For example, banks closed branches and Edgars closed certain stores. On the other hand, certain retail categories including grocers, pharmacies, and athleisure tenants were opening new stores. This is directly because shoppers were focusing on essential items, health and beauty products and changes in clothing preferences.”

“Our biggest challenge as landlords at this time isn’t omni-channel retail, it’s economic growth. There is appetite from small and large retailers to open stores, but the current economic situation is the main hindrance,” commented Majija.

SMEs are key drivers of economic growth in the country, which is the area where landlords are hoping to attract new tenants to shopping centres. “Both large and small partners are looking for space – it’s not all doom and gloom. Our priority this year is to try and accommodate as many of those opportunities as possible,” added Majija.

Richard Mukheibir supported these views, saying, “As a franchise business, we couldn’t sell franchises during hard lockdown in our usual face-to-face manner. Our sales model changed to weekly webinars and within a month, I had spoken to more than 100 people about franchising. Subsequently, we have sold 11 franchises as at the end of January. There are now more stores, but the size of the stores has reduced, with lower overheads and in turn, more profit. This proved how discomfort has resulted in interesting, innovative solutions that led to growth.”

Bathu Shoes have directly contributed to economic growth by opening twelve stores during 2020, despite the pandemic and its difficulties. Tshiamo Mathibela shared her views on how this emerging business overcame their challenges: “We don’t have a blueprint for the way we do things. Instead, we focus on innovation and customer experience. For the new stores, we paid a lot of attention to in-store design elements which have technological features that engage our customers as they approach the store – for example, the levitating sneaker machine makes the shoes look like they are floating. We consider the music we play, the images we use and fragrances we have in stores in detail. Most importantly, our engagement with customers through trained sales executives in a safe manner that makes customers feel secure in store. Furthermore, we built South Africa’s first sneaker customisation lab as an extension of customer engagement.”

The conversation around offline or online, this binary notion of one or the other, seems to be fading into obscurity. Retailers are looking to landlords to aid and advice in giving their customers a more seamless omni-channel experience. Alex Morar, CEO of NEPI Rockcastle, commented on how this has played out in the Central and Eastern European region: “We will never go back to the way things were, but that is always the case. Circumstances and operations continuously evolve and there is not a “one size fits all, all the time” strategy that we can apply. Landlords and retailers are part of one ecosystem. We need to work together to provide the best retail experience for our customers and partners. Landlords need to make sure shopping centres are attractive, well located and that the entire tenant mix is advertised. By integrating the various retailers’ concepts into digital advertising, we can ensure we are where the customers are searching. We need to have a joint strategy to approach this omni-channel experience.”

Retailers have realised that customer experience is only as strong as its weakest link. When the retail ecosystem works together to provide operational excellence, it benefits the customers. Most importantly, paying attention to what customers need and the level of human interaction that people are looking for was they come out of lockdown.

Majija made the point that customer experience does not start with the sales executive in store. “It starts with the car guard in the parking area and includes everyone in the shopping centre environment. The entire ecosystem must provide a great experience. Upskilling all staff to interact with customers will increase the interactions and will add to the overall shopping experience.”

It is a known fact that consumer behaviour is dictating most of the changes that have been implemented in recent months. The number one priority for customers is convenience. Majija related how Fortress partnered with a company that focused on Click and Collect. This company opened booths at many of the Fortress centres and there are plans to open more booths this year. In addition, Takealot opened a depot at Pineslopes. “We have seen a massive increase in delivery services like Uber Eats at a number of our centres, especially those with lots of restaurants and fast-food outlets”.

Mukheibir discussed the trend of people thinking about the trend of reuse, recycle and repurpose and wanting to live a more nomadic and agile existence. “This trend is playing really well into our hands. People are selling unwanted items in a professional retail environment and others are buying those items at half the price with a six-month guarantee. The idea of “value shopping” is increasingly mainstream, fast-forwarded as a consequence of Covid, a re-evaluation of priorities and financial spend, and the sad reality of change in employment status.”

Morar is looking forward to the continued progress of retail innovation in multi-channel retail strategy. “We are optimising our operations using revolutionary technology. The end goal is to offer a better service to our final customers. It does not sound like a big deal, but the detail behind it is substantial. The faster and the better that we do this, both us and the retailers, the more we will be able to provide the adequate experience and bring products to the end customers via multiple channels, not just physical or just online.”

Mathibela added that her team is excited about proving that traditional retail is still alive and kicking. “Because South Africa still struggles with high data costs and people not wanting to share their personal details online, they are frequenting shopping centres. We are going to continue to expand our footprint and conduct research into other engaging features to put into these stores. Our biggest goal for 2021 is become even more accessible by tapping into the smaller communities that other retailers don’t think about.”

Majija reiterated that the shopping centre industry in South Africa accounts for about 72% of all retail. “That’s approximately R780 billion per year. It is an important industry and employer. We must keep growing and expanding the retail industry. It is a massive contributor to service delivery and to the provision of services and products in South Africa. All we need now, is the economic recovery and growth to improve so that we can see the retailers opening more stores and consumers get what they want and need too.”

 

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

The global retail sector is in an unprecedented state of flux and as the end of the year approaches, Nielsen has identified a range of evolving consumer groups as well as four Holiday/Festive consumer behavioural resets related to this crucial holiday period.

Nielsen Retail Intelligence MD for Sub-Sahara Africa Kelly Arnold comments; “As the end of the year approaches, upcoming festivities are going to look very different for consumers depending on where they live, what restrictions they face and how COVID-19 has changed their spending habits. However, the reality is that the ‘golden quarter’, the crucial holiday trading period is already underway and with the continued spread of the virus and ongoing restrictions, this year’s festive period will be unlike any other.

Evolving consumer groups

Against this backdrop Nielsen has identified five different consumer groups that indicate how financial and physical restrictions could manifest leading up to the festive season:

  • Constrained and restricted consumers have suffered income loss as a result of COVID-19 and have less money to spend and also have less freedom to physically congregate and shop for their holiday needs due to local restrictions to travel, business openings and social interaction. As a result of limited physical shopping, they may have less opportunity to shop around for the best deals and assortment.
  • Constrained but free consumers have also suffered income loss and are likely to have a savings mindset as they prepare for the festive season but because they have no physical restrictions, they will have more freedom to celebrate with others and to seek the right products and price points to suit their needs.
  • Cautious middle consumers have not yet been impacted financially and their celebrations are not limited by local physical restrictions. They are more likely to be cautious spenders and may prioritise occasions and gift giving with only those closest to them.
  • Insulated but restricted consumers have not been financially impacted by COVID-19 but festivities will be impacted by local physical restrictions. Smaller gatherings may curtail normal spending and encourage self-indulgent celebrations. Financial flexibility will drive these consumers to splurge in some ways to compensate for experiences that are no longer possible (e.g. travel).
  • Insulated and free consumers have also not been financially impacted by COVID-19. While their social interactions may not be restricted, their typical celebrations may be affected by those unable to be with them this year. These consumers are likely to spend the most freely and to exhibit pre-COVID-19 holiday behaviour.

New purchase behaviours

To help chart the behaviour of these consumers, Nielsen has also identified four emerging patterns to help predict the drivers of pandemic purchase decisions in future. When applied to the context of the many upcoming holidays and year-end festivities, these reset patterns now highlight some important new behaviours that could emerge this season:

  • Basket reset – holiday spending and gifting will be refined based on what and who are considered essential for each consumer. This will require retailers and manufacturers to redefine what’s festive and capitalise on the broadened assortment of what consumers might consider “giftable” this year. From a necessity that can no longer fit the budget, to a product that has been harder to get in stores this year, there will be big shifts in what defines a “gift”.
  • Homebody reset – gatherings will be smaller and more intimate with many planned at the last minute. This might see the introduction of so-called ‘Single-Serve Celebrations that cater to needs for convenience, health and budget consciousness by offering serving sizes and packages conducive to small or socially distanced gatherings.
  • Rationale reset – consumers will spend more on themselves, prioritising self-care this year. Retailers might then look to engage with empathy and recognise the trade-offs consumers will need to make. There is also scope for just-in-case solutions that cater to consumers who may be waiting to see whether they are able to physically celebrate a festive occasion or not.
  • Affordability reset – online shopping will power more holiday consumer behaviours than ever before creating a need to convert impulsivity. With limited physical touch-points with consumers, it’ll be vital to create spontaneity, even in an online environment.

Within this new Festive framework Arnold points out: “It’s clear that celebrations are going to look very different for many consumers depending on where they live, what restrictions they face and how COVID-19 has impacted their purchasing power. Despite the diverse global spectrum of holiday celebrations, COVID-19 has forced many consumers to re-think their holiday plans in similar ways, based upon known levels of virus-related constraints and this will have far-reaching consequences for both brands and retailers.”

By Mwangi Githathu for IOL

Forget about Black Friday – this year we will be in for a bleak Christmas as the tills won’t be ringing with the same vigour due to the worst unemployment rate, highest number of business closures and worst retail spend in years, according to economists, retail analysts and trade unions.

Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt said: “It’s no big surprise. This is going to be the worst Christmas ever. Many people will not be spending money as they usually would, because there is absolutely no money and there is not much we can do about it.

“There will be changes in consumption patterns and perhaps one of the things government can do to help out is put politics aside and cancel some of the public holidays because people need to get back to work.”

Economist Mike Schussler agreed, but was still banking on Black Friday as a money spinner.

“Yes, it will be the worst Christmas in recent years. We must simply do everything to get back to normal. Black Friday has become the best promotional day on SA shopping calender. So whether people buy Coke or cellphones it is needed by all,” said Schussler.

“Retailers need people shopping. We still have 14 million people employed. While that is too few, we need to get back to normal as soon as possible.”

Investment analyst at Anchor Capital Casey Delport said: “All in all, it does appear that South Africans at large are due for a bleak Christmas season ahead.

“With 2.2 million jobs lost in Q2, it will take some time for unemployed South Africans to find their way back into the formal labour market, if they ever do.

“Currently, the FNB/Bureau of Economic Research Consumer Confidence Index sits at -23 for Q3 and bar the second quarter low of -33, this is the lowest on record since the first quarter of 1993 which was a recessionary period of great uncertainty just before South Africa’s first democratic election.”

Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) acting general secretary Riefdah Ajam said: “As a result of the hard lockdown and consequent hardships from retrenchments, few workers will receive bonuses. However we know that consumer spending is the only way to get the economy going again and so we encourage it.”

Political economy analyst Daniel Silke said: “As long as there is no Covid-19 second wave, I think we will see some rebound in retail as we move closer to Christmas.

“Lockdown regulations affected us and there is pent-up demand for value-based splurges. Of course spending will be far below last year, but not as dramatically poor as some might have expected.”

Asked whether this year’s Black Friday sales should be cancelled, spokesperson for online retailer OneDayOnly Matthew Leighton said: “Despite 2020 being a very tough year for almost everyone, there’s nothing to be gained from not recognising Black Friday and the festive season at large.

“Now more than ever, the economy requires stimulation and regrowth. Black Friday is the biggest opportunity afforded to the e-commerce industry for us to contribute towards that economic stimulation,” said Leighton.

National Credit Regulator chief executive Nomsa Motshegare said: “If consumers did not plan and budget for Black Friday and the festive season, they are cautioned not to use credit.”

National Clothing Retail Federation of SA executive director Michael Lawrence said: “We know that if you want the economy to recover, retail functionality is key so all retailers, not just clothing, will be doing smart plugging to encourage spending without incurring unsustainable debt.”

National president of South African Informal Traders Alliance SAITA Rosheda Muller said: “The informal trade has many concerns about the upcoming festive season, and we are meeting the Department of Economic Development next week to discuss them.”

“We are especially worried about the night markets, as our traders really depend on that for extra income. After having suffered severe losses during Covid-19, we need some clear direction on what the City of Cape Town’s plans are to assist us and our customers to have a good festive season.”

 

The future of retail is here

Barrows Global, a leading retail design and manufacturer, has launched the first promotional display fit for a circular economy, the PolyAl unit. Barrows’ challenge was to design a temporary display that could meet the requirements of the dynamic and ever-changing in-store environment, while using resources efficiently and eliminating waste.

Unlike most temporary displays, which are made of corrugated board and plastic with a lifespan of 4-6 weeks, the Barrows’ PolyAl unit addresses wastage by using a permanent upcycled core structure that is regularly recladded with a new brand campaign. The result? A reusable unit that requires up to 90% less corrugated board than traditional temporary displays. PolyAl units are revolutionising physical retail as brands that rent these displays enjoy a 37%[1] carbon saving and up to a 20% cost saving.

The upcycled core

Barrows was approached to find a second life for the material ‘PolyAl’, made from the plastic (polyethylene) and aluminium layers of post-consumer long-life liquid cartons that Tetra Pak and Gayatri Paper Mills are diverting from landfill. After a year of R&D, in partnership with Perspex SA, Barrows was able to manufacture a PolyAl core upcycled from 3500 long-life cartons, hence the name the PolyAl display. This reusable core is customisable with adjustable shelving, allowing for varied product heights and sizes. It is shipped flat-packed to retailers and is designed to be easily assembled and disassembled for end-of-life recycling.

How it all works

Barrows design, manufacture and install the PolyAl displays at zero-cost to the retailer. The core units are asset tracked and Barrows takes responsibility for the maintenance of the units, which are uplifted and recycled into new displays at the end of 24 months.

Brands book space in-store with the retailer and rent the displays from Barrows on a monthly basis. The rental includes cladding design, distribution and installation, and all previous campaign cladding is recycled. Due to a closed-loop supply chain, Barrows ensures a hassle-free, fast and high quality brand activation with zero waste to landfill – leaving brands the time to do what they do best.

PolyAl launched in Dis-Chem

“Retailers own the space that the displays occupy and their buy-in for this concept is critical,” says Joss Myers, MD Barrows Africa. Dis-Chem, a leading South African drug retailer, is the first to adopt the programme. The first 505 PolyAl displays have just been installed in Dis-Chem stores nationwide. These units have diverted 1.8 million long-life cartons from landfill and by the end of the year this number is expected to reach 3.5 million as the programme grows with Dis-Chem. “The response from our store managers and customers has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Mark Norton, Group Marketing Manager at Dis-Chem. “Freestanding display units are vital to our business, as they are designed to attract consumers and move stock quickly. Not only are the PolyAl displays made from recycled materials, but they are fully recyclable, which aligns with Dis-Chem’s commitment to be more environmentally responsible.” The first brands supporting the programme include the Dis-Chem house brand Greener Living, Unilever’s multibrand Spring Clean, Red Bull and Celltone Skin Care.

Get involved!

“In light of our current environmental crisis, many brands and retailers are becoming increasingly committed to reducing their environmental impact,” explains Jenna Bleloch, Head of Sustainability at Barrows Global. “The PolyAl units are an in-store solution that is consistent with these goals.”

The Barrows’ vision is to divert 35-million long-life cartons from landfill in PolyAl units. This fleet of 10 000 reusable displays is estimated to save 360 tonnes of carbon.

 

Online grocery shopping sees a surge 

By Ross Jenvey, founder and general partner at Kingson Capital 

There can be no question that Covid-19 has changed the way the world operates. Some trends are temporary, and some are more permanent, with the common question nowadays being: what will the new normal look like? As investors in early-stage technology companies, we at Kingson Capital are trying to establish what trends are likely to stick around long term after lockdown truly ends and identify the right companies to invest into that will benefit.

We believe that e-commerce will permanently benefit from people wanting to, or being forced to, socially distance themselves. One of the sub-sectors in this space is online grocery shopping. Adoption risk is common in most early stage companies, where new technology is built to change the way things are done, but people are often resistant to adopt the change. However, once forced to try something different, as many people have been in the last six months, the inertia is broken, and they often refuse to go back to the way they did things before.

Data released by Pitchbook on the US online grocery market shows that the early stages of lockdown in 2020 allowed grocery sales to regain some of the market share it had lost against restaurants and take-aways. More sophisticated technology, coupled with a slew of online grocery shopping options offered by stores and independent tech companies, have seen global online grocery delivery & pickup   increase from $1.2bn in August 2019 to $6.6bn in May 2020, a 450% increase in just nine months.

Pitchbook Research furthermore predicts that in the US, online grocery shopping is going to grow from 4.9% of total grocery spend in 2019 to 11.6% by 2025, a 2.4x increase in wallet-share. No matter how you look at it, this represents significant growth. The poster-child of the online grocery shopping industry in the US is Instacart, which raised $225m in a VC-funded round in June 2020, ballooning its valuation from $7.9bn in late-2018 to $13.7bn. Delivery Hero is a similar company, listed in Germany, and in the just over nine months to mid-September 2020, its share price has increased 28% (to a valuation of €18.0bn) as investors continue to take a positive view on this sector.

In South Africa, we are seeing equally positive developments. The main local players – OneCart, Checkers 60/60, Bottles, Quench and Zulzi – have all completed or embarked on funding rounds in 2020 led by JSE-listed companies. The main differentiation between these players is based on multiple versus single retail platforms that a customer can choose from. We are also aware that several of these players have seen anywhere between 200-500% growth in their daily orders since lockdown was implemented in March 2020. Google search analytics has shown that after an initial surge, the reduction of lockdown restrictions in South Africa has correlated with a reduction in online searches for “Online Grocery and Delivery services”. However, that search is still roughly twice as popular as pre-lockdown levels, and the growth in order volumes referred to above talks to the stickiness we would expect, as people become repeat customers. This is the kind of growth that usually attracts competition, and one place we foresee it coming from will be UberEats, after Uber bought the Mexican grocery delivery app business, Cornershop, in October 2019. New apps will also likely spring up.

Research released by the South African Council of Shopping Centres in May 2020 posted an expectation that retail sales will be down as much as 15% from current levels, and there will be slow recovery in shopping centre activity as GDP and employment both contract. Their survey revealed that 22% of respondents were not comfortable with visiting shopping centres and preferred online shopping, and 32% said they were regular online shoppers. This will likely accelerate the trend towards e-Commerce, as retailers try to protect their market share by pushing into this space, to the benefit of the incumbent tech solutions in the market. Interestingly, the major South African retailers such as Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Checkers and MassMart have all recently partnered with or acquired e-Commerce on-demand service providers. The ultimate winners will be the providers that can win consumer trust with consistent excellence in fulfilment and on-time delivery percentages.

Online grocery shopping is likely to be one of those sticky trends which will benefit greatly from the new way the world will work post-lockdown. Pitchbook analysts seem to think this will happen globally, and we think that South Africa will show equally exciting growth, even though we have traditionally been late adopters of e-Commerce. It’s also a sector that is creating jobs, since the shoppers and drivers employed now in this industry are new jobs, and the low skill requirements of the jobs is important in a country like South Africa. Necessity often brings about change, and consumers clearly need to operate differently in the new world they will find themselves in.”

By Denise Lee Yohn for Harvard Business Review

Retailers need to stop expecting business to return to “normal.” There’s no going back to how it was anytime soon. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, brick-and-mortar retailers had been fighting a fierce battle against Amazon and other e-commerce players. Those challenges have now accelerated at staggering speed.

The latest data from McKinsey shows that consumers are likely to keep the behaviours they’ve adopted amid stay-at-home orders, such as more online shopping and fewer mall visits. Retailers can’t afford to be in a wait-and-see mode. First, they need to reimagine their baseline requirements and then turn their attention to taking their customer experience to the next level.

A new baseline
To start, retailers have to adapt their brick-and-mortar operations to comply with health-and-safety regulations and meet basic customer expectations. This includes mask wearing, ensuring physical distancing, and controlling the number of employees and customers in stores, instituting contactless transactions, improving speed of service, and introducing more self-service options.

Retailers also need to offer a simple and seamless e-commerce experience — from browsing to researching, selecting, purchasing, and returning/exchanging. Customers will no longer tolerate sub-par digital shopping experiences like they may have before the crisis. Retailers have to make sure their sites are mobile-responsive, offer integrated services such as “buy online pick up in store” (BOPIS), and deliver a consistent, reliable digital experience across devices and channels.

For a select few retailers, such as trendy fashion stores or pop-up restaurants, executing at this baseline level is sufficient. If demand for a product is so high and/or urgent — for example, as it had been for Shake Shack burgers, Nike shoe drops, or the latest Apple release — customers will still venture out to a brick-and-mortar location. Camping out overnight or waiting in hours-long lines to shop may eventually return as a super fan’s pastime. But that’s no longer a strategy to rely on – enhanced in-store operations and a well-functioning digital presence are table stakes.

Rethinking the in-person experience
For several years now, some retailers have been putting as much if not more priority on the in-store experience than on the products they sell. From Restoration Hardware to Bass Pro Shops and even Walmart, retailers have learned that holding events or offering special experiences and services in-store not only attracts customers, but also encourages them to linger longer, buy more products, and spend more on those products.

As a result of Covid-19, all retailers will have to make their in-store experiences even more extraordinary for those who can visit in person. They have to give people a reason to visit that is so compelling, it justifies their exposure to health risks and overcomes the inertia of the behaviours they adopted during the shutdown.

To get started, retailers can consider how premium movie theatre brands such as Cinepolis emerged back when Netflix and other home movie-viewing options threatened the movie theatre industry. These new experiences didn’t simply improve what had been previously offered to customers and address the shortcomings of existing options. They made visiting a theatre better than watching at home — offering luxury reclining loungers, specialty food and beverages delivered seat-side, and lobby areas with bars to hangout with friends before and after movies. Retailers that offer an exclusive, superior experience like luxury cinemas once did can draw people out of their homes.

Elevated in-person customer service is another way to compete and win over online players, but retailers must think differently about service. Service can no longer be defined as a support for sales and be limited to generic efforts, such as greeting customers, handling complaints, and managing returns and special requests. Even personal shoppers, technical experts, and certified installers have become expected from most retailers of bigger ticket, more complex product categories.

Best Buy used this approach several years ago to rebound from its losing battle with Amazon. It introduced an advisor program that allows customers to get free in-home consultations about the products they should buy and how they should be installed. The service is intended to facilitate long-term customer relationships, not necessarily to close sales. As a result, it lured customers away from online options and positioned Best Buy as a trustworthy, more personal brand.

Digitally native customer experience
This new emphasis on innovation and service needs to extend to the digital customer experience as well. Most retailers with roots in brick-and-mortar simply try to replicate their in-store experience online, but such efforts are fruitless and misguided. Beyond the transaction basics discussed earlier, customers don’t expect a virtual experience to be like an in-person one — nor do they want it to be.

Investing in some of the unique capabilities of digital — including real-time inventory management, predictive analytics, AI-powered search, and personalisation and co-creation functions — can create completely new and different shopping experiences. Take, for example, social commerce, which not only enables companies to sell through social media channels but also incorporates social interactions; peer support, reviews, and recommendations; multimedia content; personalisation; gamification; and more. A retailer can use these new capabilities to create a social, interactive, immersive experience wherever customers are — that’s something no physical outlet can provide.

To get inspiration and insights for designing an online shopping experience from the ground up, retailers might want to examine the evolution of other brick-and-mortar industries and institutions. When Covid-19 forced churches to shut down their weekly services, most simply transferred their church services online using digital conferencing solutions like Zoom. But Cincinnati-based Crossroads Church seized the opportunity to re-imagine its pastors’ weekly sermons. Now they film pastors delivering messages at different locations to help reinforce that week’s message (for example, talking about the importance of a strong foundation at the site of a historic church). Similarly, retailers can take advantage of the greater flexibility and new contexts that digital affords by, for example, depicting a single clothing item on multiple models to show what it looks like on different body shapes and sizes or using videos to demonstrate how real customers actually use a tool.

They can also take inspiration from how digital enables immediacy and interactivity for online education platforms such as edX and Coursera. Students studying software programming can upload their coding projects and get them automatically graded, so they receive instant feedback; psychology students can use an app that goes with their class to track their habits and better notice patterns in their own behaviour. What might this look like in the retail context? Possibilities include AI-enabled answers to customers’ questions in real-time, instant video chat with a personal stylist, and apps that track usage of current products to make recommendations for new ones. Ideas like these arise when retailers think beyond adapting the in-person experience online.

This isn’t the time for the retail industry to try to simply ride out the storm. With a more proactive, progressive approach to both digital transformation and a new era of customer experience and service, the future might look less bleary.

If our free content helps you to contend with these challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources.

By Londiwe Buthelezi for Fin24

Even though the ongoing nationwide lockdown has sent many of its tenants’ operations on a tailspin, property giant Redefine says South Africa’s retail sector is showing a better recovery trajectory than markets like China where shoppers continue to stay away from shopping malls.

The owner of shopping centres such as the Centurion Mall and the East Rand Mall told journalists during the presentation of its interim results on Monday that while it expects demand for retail space to change as the coronavirus (Covid-19) and lockdown changed people’s way of doing things, South Africans are still showing love for malls.

Redefine Financial Director, Leon Kok said looking at photographs of the group’s shopping centres and malls taken over the past long weekend, they resembled a “normal weekend” with people visiting in droves, but still keeping the required level of social distancing.

Shoppers flock back to malls

“I can’t believe the numbers of people that were going to shopping centres… Surprisingly, I would say that in our centres, between 40% and 70% of the centres’ [shops] were open,” he said, but acknowledged that since restaurants and gyms will remain closed for the foreseeable future, this will affect foot traffic.

Richard Cheesman, senior analyst at Protea Capital Management said most people’s observation of shopping centre activity over the past weekend would probably correlate with what Redefine reported. But in the medium-term, as the current economic situation dampens consumer spending, Covid-19 will weigh on the local real estate industry as many other commentators have predicted.

“You would expect an initial bounce back after the lockdown. This may moderate going forward. Some areas are still not open such as entertainment and sit-down restaurants. Eventually the market should stabilise at a below average level,” he said.

Stanlib’s Head of Listed Property Funds, Keillen Ndlovu, said what set South Africa apart from other markets is that South Africans love to shop.
“We are a shopping nation and the malls opened (for Level 4 lockdown trading) at the beginning of the month after most people have just been paid. Most of all, we have low levels of online shopping at about 2% of total retail sales. So, people have to go out and shop,” he said.

In comparison, online shopping in China now accounts for over 30% of total retail sales compared to South Africa’s 2%, and even if people wanted to shop more online in the country, delivery of many items has not been allowed during the lockdown, he added.

But rental income will still be low

South African’s willingness to go out shopping again will be a welcome relief to landlords, as it could help convince their retail tenants to keep their rented space. However, Redefine said it still expects to grant more rental concessions to tenants or that some tenants will not make it at all.

The group’s Chief Operating Officer, David Rice, said rental discussions were taking place between Redefine and many of its tenants, as some were not happy about paying rates and taxes. Rice said the group also expects the vacancy rate in its office portfolio, which climbed to 12.3% in the six months to February, to continue rising.

Ndlovu said unfortunately property companies are going into these negotiations with tenants in a “tenants’ market”.

“Landlords have to do the best they can to nurse ailing tenants. It costs more to lose a tenant than to retain one, even at a lower rent. There’s no demand for vacant space at the moment. Even if there was, there’s an opportunity cost of missed rentals when the property is vacant,” he said.

Last week, the recently formed Property Industry Group announced the availability of industry-wide assistance and relief packages for all retail tenants during South Africa’s 35 days of lockdown.

While this will provide a much-needed stopgap for many tenants concerned about their operational viability post-lockdown, the announcement puts pressure on the various unlisted property groups, many which are not part of the Property Industry Group and were not consulted on the proposed packages, says Soria Hay, head of Corporate Finance at Bravura.

The Property Industry Group consists of the sector’s three biggest players, namely the South African Reit Association (SA REIT), the SA Property Owners Association (SAPOA) and the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC), and is the mouthpiece for the South African commercial real estate sector.

The intention of the assistance and relief package initiative is to preserve the jobs of retailers, suppliers and service providers, with a qualifying criteria for tenants to ensure that no staff retrenchments are made during the relief period. Assistance and relief is to be at the discretion of the landlord, but the package stipulates the minimum that qualifying retailers can expect.

The package is to be made available for the periods of April and May 2020 and will provide basic assistance and relief as well as interest-free deferment recovery periods for SMMEs and tenants providing non-essential services. Relief can consist of rental reductions (between 35% to 100% for the first month and between 25% and 50% rental reduction for the second) or rental deferments.

The Property Industry Group acknowledges that the relief package comes at a high cost for the industry. Group spokesperson, Estienne de Klerk says that it is time for bigger and stronger companies to step up and form a buffer to protect smaller retailers so that the sector can collectively come out stronger.

Unlisted property groups and independent shopping centres are not part of the Property Industry Group collective. As such these industry players were not included in the consultation process that took place when obtaining buy-in for the proposed package. Yet the relief initiative undoubtedly sets an industry precedent which could see independent landlords and property groups challenged to provide similar relief to their own tenants.

Although the listed property sector has not been immune to the challenges experienced by the retail sector preceding lockdown (in fact it was named as the worst-performing asset class of 2019) there is arguably better liquidity and wiggle room here in which to provide tenant assistance than within their unlisted counterparts. Just recently leading REIT, Redefine Properties, which owns more than 300 retail properties across the country, said that it was in a position of strong liquidity with which to face off the lockdown, with access to R2.8 billion in committed undrawn credit facilities. This is certainly not the case for several thousand medium and small retail operations in South Africa.

Prior to lockdown, retailers were already experiencing the negative COVID-19 impacts. For example, in the short “stay at home” period leading up to the original 21-day lockdown, struggling retail group Edcon was hit with a 45% income loss and a reduction of about R400m in sales from flagship stores Edgars and Jet chains. The group anticipates a further R800m loss in sales over the lockdown period and a question mark remains over whether the group will be able to pick up operations once the lockdown is over. The ripple effect if Edcon folds will be felt throughout the sector – listed and unlisted.

The Property Industry Group has only stipulated the relief package for April and May, and it will be a different ball game should timeframes become longer. For the unlisted sector – and their tenants – with less concerted relief efforts available, the playing field may grow more uneven.

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