Evolution of Clothing Retail in SA: Insights from Ackermans CEO

It is no secret to everyday consumers and industry professionals that South Africa’s retail industry, including clothing retail, has faced many obstacles throughout the years. Between the rise in loadshedding hours, the extended economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, poor infrastructure, inflation, constrained consumer spending and unemployment, SA’s retail giants have certainly had to overcome some tough challenges.

Despite all of the road blocks along the way, our clothing retailer industry is focused on future-proofing to sustain continued growth. This is important now more than ever, as the threat of cheap online global retailers with aggressive digital marketing budgets in the billions is undeniable.

Developments in consumer buying trends initially occur in retail, which means that the industry is beholden to transforming buyer desires. Here are four insights from Yda van Gass, Chief Executive: Planning at Ackermans, on how the clothing retail industry is currently evolving:

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Enhancing Customer Experience in a Digital Market

Customer experience now extends far beyond the moment a customer enters your shop. Today, it encompasses every interaction with your brand—from a Google search to social media engagement, and through the myriad channels from which customers can purchase products.

“It is very important that you stay true to your brand positioning through each touch point the customer has. They should experience the same brand, message, emotion when that interaction happens, and every time they interact it should support the values and mission of the brand. In recent years, in store digital screens or window displays have been quite popular in international retail, but we have seen more mainstream retailers exploring this in South Africa within the past 12 months. This continues to create a new dimension for shoppers,” explains van Gass.

Sustainability in Clothing Retail: A Growing Focus

A company can promote sustainability through various measures, from reducing paper usage and embracing digital solutions, to focusing on the more complex task of sustainable sourcing. Van Gass affirms that there are numerous initiatives within Pepkor driving this, especially as 92% of South African citizens consider sustainability a crucial issue.

“With Pepkor being one of the biggest retail groups in Southern Africa we have a giant footprint in the number of units we source across the world. This puts a big responsibility on us as leaders within the group to make sure we do as much as possible to reduce our footprint. This ranges from sourcing responsibly, to making sure we use the most optimal routes for the vehicles delivery goods to our nearly 6,000 stores. Something small like the lighting in our stores is an effort to reduce electricity, especially now that our power grid is under strain. Certain market segments have an expectation that the brands they support have a certain degree of sustainability effort. A brand then needs to acknowledge this and make sure they keep the focus.  Every company should have this as a focus and need to challenge themselves on where they can do their part to be more sustainable,” van Gass says.

Maintaining a Strong Brand Identity

In retail the customer must be at the core of every decision. Prioritising shareholder satisfaction or focusing solely on impressive KPIs, without considering the customer impact is risky, she notes. It’s essential to understand the customer thoroughly—what is offered, how, when, and in what manner. Amidst this analysis, maintaining your brand positioning remains crucial.

“A brand should evolve over time when the time is right, but if the purpose, mission and value statement is still relevant and true, you should always have that in centre focus. The South African customer is very diverse and very innovative. With this being said, it is very dangerous to box your customer in using only a few measurements. Limiting your focus to specific metrics such as SEMs, income, or certain demographics can be restrictive. To truly understand your customers, consider their complete profile. This holistic approach will enable you to accurately identify their needs and effectively address them as a retailer,” says van Gass.

Omni-Channel Strategies: Meeting Diverse Customer Needs

According to market research agency KLA, a remarkable 74% of South Africans start their shopping journey online to examine product offerings. However, only 40% will complete their purchase through the same online channel. It’s further imperative to note that 42% find products online but prefer to buy in-store, highlighting the necessity of in-person experiences.

“At the moment Ackermans is still in its infancy stage of being a fully integrated omni-channel business. It is, however, a big focus for us to grow this part of our business. I believe that you need to approach this very cautiously and know where your costs will come from. We have seen from European and US retailers that online shopping and a fully integrated omni-channel approach can also cost you dearly if not run and set up responsibly. South Africans were slower to adapt to online shopping initially compared to the Northern Hemisphere, so we need to listen and learn from their mistakes. The more mature your business is with a bigger store footprint, I believe the more difficult it is to serve a fully integrated omni-channel business. Every step from demand forecasting to fulfilling the needs via your supply chain needs to be integrated and understood,” van Gass concludes.

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It is no secret to everyday consumers and industry professionals that South Africa’s retail industry, including clothing retail, has faced many obstacles throughout the years. Between the rise in loadshedding hours, the extended economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, poor infrastructure, inflation, constrained consumer spending and unemployment, SA’s retail giants have certainly had to overcome some tough challenges.

Despite all of the road blocks along the way, our clothing retailer industry is focused on future-proofing to sustain continued growth. This is important now more than ever, as the threat of cheap online global retailers with aggressive digital marketing budgets in the billions is undeniable.

Developments in consumer buying trends initially occur in retail, which means that the industry is beholden to transforming buyer desires. Here are four insights from Yda van Gass, Chief Executive: Planning at Ackermans, on how the clothing retail industry is currently evolving:

- Advertisement -
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Enhancing Customer Experience in a Digital Market

Customer experience now extends far beyond the moment a customer enters your shop. Today, it encompasses every interaction with your brand—from a Google search to social media engagement, and through the myriad channels from which customers can purchase products.

“It is very important that you stay true to your brand positioning through each touch point the customer has. They should experience the same brand, message, emotion when that interaction happens, and every time they interact it should support the values and mission of the brand. In recent years, in store digital screens or window displays have been quite popular in international retail, but we have seen more mainstream retailers exploring this in South Africa within the past 12 months. This continues to create a new dimension for shoppers,” explains van Gass.

Sustainability in Clothing Retail: A Growing Focus

A company can promote sustainability through various measures, from reducing paper usage and embracing digital solutions, to focusing on the more complex task of sustainable sourcing. Van Gass affirms that there are numerous initiatives within Pepkor driving this, especially as 92% of South African citizens consider sustainability a crucial issue.

“With Pepkor being one of the biggest retail groups in Southern Africa we have a giant footprint in the number of units we source across the world. This puts a big responsibility on us as leaders within the group to make sure we do as much as possible to reduce our footprint. This ranges from sourcing responsibly, to making sure we use the most optimal routes for the vehicles delivery goods to our nearly 6,000 stores. Something small like the lighting in our stores is an effort to reduce electricity, especially now that our power grid is under strain. Certain market segments have an expectation that the brands they support have a certain degree of sustainability effort. A brand then needs to acknowledge this and make sure they keep the focus.  Every company should have this as a focus and need to challenge themselves on where they can do their part to be more sustainable,” van Gass says.

Maintaining a Strong Brand Identity

In retail the customer must be at the core of every decision. Prioritising shareholder satisfaction or focusing solely on impressive KPIs, without considering the customer impact is risky, she notes. It’s essential to understand the customer thoroughly—what is offered, how, when, and in what manner. Amidst this analysis, maintaining your brand positioning remains crucial.

“A brand should evolve over time when the time is right, but if the purpose, mission and value statement is still relevant and true, you should always have that in centre focus. The South African customer is very diverse and very innovative. With this being said, it is very dangerous to box your customer in using only a few measurements. Limiting your focus to specific metrics such as SEMs, income, or certain demographics can be restrictive. To truly understand your customers, consider their complete profile. This holistic approach will enable you to accurately identify their needs and effectively address them as a retailer,” says van Gass.

Omni-Channel Strategies: Meeting Diverse Customer Needs

According to market research agency KLA, a remarkable 74% of South Africans start their shopping journey online to examine product offerings. However, only 40% will complete their purchase through the same online channel. It’s further imperative to note that 42% find products online but prefer to buy in-store, highlighting the necessity of in-person experiences.

“At the moment Ackermans is still in its infancy stage of being a fully integrated omni-channel business. It is, however, a big focus for us to grow this part of our business. I believe that you need to approach this very cautiously and know where your costs will come from. We have seen from European and US retailers that online shopping and a fully integrated omni-channel approach can also cost you dearly if not run and set up responsibly. South Africans were slower to adapt to online shopping initially compared to the Northern Hemisphere, so we need to listen and learn from their mistakes. The more mature your business is with a bigger store footprint, I believe the more difficult it is to serve a fully integrated omni-channel business. Every step from demand forecasting to fulfilling the needs via your supply chain needs to be integrated and understood,” van Gass concludes.

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