Companies who have a linear type of thinking, and only look at what they have done in the past and where they can improve on it, don’t move forward, says Sterling Hawkins, the co-founder of Centre for Advanced Retail and Technology. Looking backwards leaves them with a better version of the past, which helps the company improve on past mistakes or solve problems, but it doesn’t  help them to progress.

Hawkins was one of the speakers at Seamless* last week.

Innovative thinking asks questions such as what else is possible? or what if I do X?, instead of just adding technology onto what has always been done in the past. Innovation is what sets one apart from another. “Someone has to put their neck on the line,” Hawkins adds.

Changing the thinking inside the company and the company culture is important in order to move forwards, and away from what’s always been done, he says.

Retail needs new ways of thinking, say Lauren King and Sterling Hawkins. Photos supplied.

“South African retailers aren’t being innovative, and many of our eCommerce sites are just fancy catalogues,” says Lauren King, Executive: eCommerce and Web Services for Edcon. Retailtainment is the way to draw consumers: fuse experience with the store experience and the consumer will be in the store longer. “The longer people are in the store, the more they might buy.”

VANS has a skatepark at their store, Le Creuset runs cookery classes, in-store product customisation … these are just some of the examples of how retailers are already incorporating entertainment.

Thinking is stuck in the old legacy system, she says, and it’s expensive to take a risk.

Don’t get hung up on the risk of doing something!, warns Mpumi Nhlapo, Head of Demand Management at T-Systems. Only thinking about things from the perspective of how much risk you’re taking will stop a company from moving forward.

Look at the world differently, says Dylan Piatti.

One should look at the world in three ways, advises Dylan Piatti, Africa C&IP Senior Chief of Staff at Deloitte SA and chair of the Africa Ecommerce Forum: what’s possible, what’s probable, and what’s preferable. To determine probable look at what’s happening in the world in politics, socially, developments, etc. and get an overview of what is likely to happen in the future. For preferable, think about ways of how to get to your company’s preferred future.

Design with the customer in mind

On the other hand, change without a solid reason can also lose you customers. Updating the store’s look and layout can be a good thing, but make sure there is sense and reason behind it. Too drastic a change from what your customers are used to will leave them confused and unable to find the products they came to buy from you, and you might lose them and the sale – especially if your staff aren’t on their toes and immediately available to take the customer to where the product has been moved.

“Never underestimate the stupidity of the public,” warns Philip Kruger, co-owner of Philip Kruger Consulting. “Don’t assume they know how your things work.” It’s a good idea to make logical changes and to keep like items together, which will help your customer navigate to where he needs to be. It’s also a good idea to take note of how people want to shop in your store, he adds, as opposed to how you want them to shop.

Your customer should look forward to being in your store, says Frans van der Colff.

Yours should be more than just another store, says Frans van der Colff, Director for Africa at Fruit and Veg City. Try to give the customer such an experience that he enjoys shopping at your store – he’ll then look forward to shopping with you, instead of dreading the experience.

Also, don’t neglect your customer, he adds, giving the example of Enterprise that didn’t even go out to talk to the protesting people outside its office after its products were linked to the listeriosis deaths. Ignoring the problem and hoping it’ll go away is never a good strategy.

It comes down to respecting your customer.

The same goes for eCommerce store design: consider your customer’s needs first and then see how you can marry this with those of your company, advises Isvari Naidoo (BU Channel and Customer Manager – eCommerce and Food Aggregators) from Coca-Cola SA. “Remember: you’re not the customer.”

Of the top rated sites on Alexa, 80% are mobile adaptive, says Naidoo – 44% of the sites’ traffic is from mobiles, but mobile purchases account for 61% of sales. This signifies that a lot of people are shopping via their mobile phones and tablets, and there is a strong likelihood that they will be using data to access your eCommerce store. Keep this in mind when you want to design a site that will take a lot of data to download. Big, data-heavy images mean nothing if customers have a browsing limit.

Similarly, customers expect a fast page load speed and want it to load under four seconds, adds Naidoo. If people have to wait too long, they won’t stick around to shop.

Lower the barrier to shopping and people will buy more, agrees Hawkins.

* Seamless is an exhibition and congress focusing on innovation in retail, eCommerce and payment categories. This year it took place 5-6 March in Cape Town. The 2019 event will be held 12-13 March at the Cape Town International Conference Centre.