The performance of a country’s retail sector is a good barometer of the health of an economy.

A gleam of light in challenging times was seen from the UK with the release of the May retail figures where there was a 2.8% growth like on like basis from May 2017. However, it’s not all rosy.

Paul Martin, Head of Retail at KPMG said: “May provided a much-needed uplift to retail performance delivering a respectable 4.1 per cent growth. Two bank holiday weekends, a Royal wedding and of course sunnier spells will have been the main drivers behind the apparent rebound, with both online and high street sales thankfully up overall. While the month’s figures may paint a rosier picture, there is no room for complacency. The market is increasingly being split into winners and losers, with a number of legacy players continuing to face extremely challenging conditions. As such, focusing on transforming businesses both operationally and financially is pivotal.”

The fact is that retail is tough and it’s a dog eat dog market in the UK at present. Retail companies are looking for an edge and Digital Transformation is at the top of the list.

An amazing statistic when one considers the growth of digital mediums is that more retail purchases occur on line that they do on the high street in the UK. Those who haven’t transformed their businesses and adapted to the digital age are realising how lethal it is to their chances of success or even survival to be lagging behind.

So, in the scramble to transform, how quickly is the retail sector adapting to these challenging times? 

In the excellent recent Econsultancy report, “Digital Transformation in the retail sectors” most retailers indicated that they were well on their way toward achieving key goals of digital transformationMore than half of the respondents stated that they were at least working on a ‘single customer view’ (59%) and ‘customer journey analysis’ (56%).

This is in stark contrast to the SA market where in my opinion digital transformation and ecommerce is still not given the attention it deserves. The writing is on the wall as to what the customer wants: and that is a quality digital experience in choosing their products and services.

The MD’s and CEO’s of retail businesses I speak to in SA often seem confused. They know they have to seize the opportunities that the internet offers but they don’t know where to start or how to create and follow a cohesive plan that leads to a transformation.

There is one retailer with 50 outlets in SA who has started this process many times, spent a lot of cash and got no further in their endeavours. It’s a 700-million-rand turnover business and the opportunity loss of revenue is enormous.

So why is digital transformation in SA so difficult to achieve?

Because it involves a complete rethink of how businesses operate, an experienced and knowledgeable digital consultancy team which can integrate and work with the management, map that transformation, stage by stage, achieve a buy in from management and staff alike, and make it happen. That’s tough, but doable.

My thoughts on what it takes in the briefest of outlines is thus:

Focus on the customer – what do they want? Don’t just guess or assume or copy what others are doing. Do your research and find out.

Understand that it’s going to take emotional intelligence and sensitivity, to get a buy in from a management team which is used to doing things differently. Digital Transformation must be seen as a positive to the success of the business and to all those within. Most people are, naturally, scared or resistant to what they don’t know or understand. If people feel threatened they won’t cooperate.

Digital transformation is an opportunity to discover how a business can solve problems, be more efficient, generate higher profits and give consumers a better experience. It’s how you position digital transformation to your team that can often be the difference between success and failure of the transformation project.

Agree stages and times. You can’t do everything at once so pick a starting area that you want to focus on and which shows positive impact on the business. This may be something as practical as profiling, collating and personalising your email and SMS data bases before you begin.

Concentrate on delivering wins and improvement to the consumer experience but also focus on what are the financial benefits that are flowing from that.

Even something as simple as ensuring that you use your customers’ name in your email communication can lift responses by 10% (Summit Media UK  2017). If you are a large retailer that’s a huge upturn in turnover and profit. I can name 10 companies in SA with turners over 100,000 million ZAR which are not yet doing this simple exercise.

If you skim read this. Here is a nice easy to understand Ten Point Starting Plan for Digital Transformation, that you can digest at a glance.


If you need assistance in making more business efficiencies and profit through digital, call us and we can help you.


Thomas Boyd – Digital Fire MD.

+27 21 461 0891