By Louise Burgers, Retailing Africa Editor. So, it’s the start of a New Year – that quite frankly, we had very low expectations of anyway, given the crises of the past three years – and now we are deep into the disruption of Stage 6 power blackouts, coupled with an alleged assassination attempt on the current power utility CEO, plus there is a tiger on the loose in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province (I kid you not). Here’s 2023, already trying to outdo 2022! It has some ways to go though, given this time last year when many of us were recovering from the first Omicron wave of COVID-19, the Covid-driven cancellation of our 2021/22 festive tourist season, and the New Year fire which burnt down the historic South African Parliament… and, and, and!
If you’re into scenario planning and caught up on the latest news cycles, you know things are dire on a global level, after the pandemic levelled the playing field in so many industries across the world. We’re also all consumers and know how much prices have increased in everything across the board, not to mention the constant power outages as our state-run power utility continues to be a pawn between Government and our gangsta economy.
Historians have been predicting another global pandemic for decades, so Covid was in a way, an inevitable wake-up call. Eskom’s woes, however, are man-made and that is what makes people so angry. It is a struggle to keep any business alive after the battering of the past few years, but with continued power outages for six to 12 hours a day, it becomes impossible for many. And that is the saddest part.
Retailers and marketers are facing an increasingly challenging environment, and the pressure has never been as intense on marketers to grow business, not just brands. Founder and executive director of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, South African-born, Donovan Neale-May, says the biggest challenge for CMOs is to, “align and adapt marketing organisations, programs and spend to have ‘elasticity’ and ‘agility’ in a gyrating economy. They need to anticipate demand chain shifts and act pre-emptively using real-time, forensic data analysis; and become the authority on growth strategies, revenue leakage/recovery, pricing/margin upside, opportunity conversion, transactional gain, and customer value building.”
Investing in hope
So how does one have hope in our current state? Retailing Africa asked some of our regular columnists, contributors and partners for their opinion on how to keep moving forward in challenging times and to keep inspiring those around you. Our question was this:
‘How can we give hope to our retail and brand sector next year,
given current global and local market uncertainty?’
“The last three years have been the most challenging of times in all my years of managing a business and it is still continuing,” says Lena le Roux, managing director of Staycold International, a South African refrigeration company. Le Roux writes that hope is a passive term but becomes an action when it generates positive energy through positive actions – and is always a team effort. “There is hope in small things, not in big things. So, build this hope into your company with your employees in every instance you can. Celebrate the small wins.”
As Michelle Cave, Brandfundi MD, explains, “Hope is a state of optimism and serves to relieve powerlessness and anxiety while promoting well-being. It’s a mindset that, even without certainty, provides comfort in an anticipated positive outcome. With all that’s going on in the world and its crippling impact on consumers, brands have a crucial role in being a source of hope; more especially, as many countries suffer from insufficient government support.”
Zuko Mdwaba, Salesforce South Africa area vice president and country leader, says trends are all very well, but it is more useful to consider the actions that are most likely to ensure sustainable business growth in 2023. “The nugget for retailers to take into 2023 is that success now relies on finding the right balance between data and personalisation, loyalty and the customer experience. Trends, interesting though they are to take note of, come and go, but retailers which expect to be around beyond 2023 understand the need for operational excellence and tech efficiency at every touchpoint.”
Managing director of brand agency, HaveYouHeard Durban, Kirsty Bisset, writes that, “When you have hope, you are looking forward. You take comfort and gain energy in the feeling of potential. That’s why I feel a ‘Retail Renaissance’ awaits us in 2023.” She believes consumers will continue to flock to shopping malls – for shopping, as well as new and unique experiences. [Read more]
The marketing and sales director of Bateleur Brand Planning, Michelle Steyn, believes that significant growth in the retail sector is possible, provided retailers meet their customer needs. “Growth is not just a coincidence. Companies that grew listened to consumers’ needs and adjusted accordingly. They invested in their own brands, engaged with their customers, and reaped the benefits.”
Terena Chetty, head of strategy for 1Africa Consulting, reports that significant retail investment in shopping malls, with further projects breaking ground in 2023 and in the pipeline for 2024 and beyond, should herald major growth for the retail and business sector. [Read more]
Wunderman Thompson SA chief growth officer, Astrid Ascar, says we cannot control macroeconomic factors, but we can take a step back and take stock. “Find hope in the fact that all downward cycles do eventually swing upwards, find hope in the fact that we have more than enough evidence showing us that the future shopper will shop in very different ways – now is the perfect time to recraft strategies and lay the foundations for this future.”
The tough keep going
We will be carrying the views of these industry leaders and Retailing Africa contributors, and more, in full for the rest of this week and the next, to inspire us to keep positive, beyond what some of the trends and scenarios may predict. We always have the power to change things.
From my perspective as a natural optimist, it is to keep your eye on your goal and your supporters close. Retailing Africa launched just six weeks before our hard Covid lockdown in South Africa in March 2020. I never thought for one moment that we wouldn’t make it. We just kept going, looking for ways to support our industry; to bring in the experts to interpret this changed world; to keep innovating; to keep building our networks; to keep giving a platform to business innovation and the great people in our industry that lead, every day, by example – building great brands, through ethical leadership, those at the forefront of innovation, and who do not give up.
This is where our famed/notorious resilience in Africa comes into play. It’s always been a tough environment to do business in, but we continue, because this is one of the most beautiful and exciting places to live and build a business and a career. We are good at tough. Happy New Year!
Louise Burgers is the Publisher, Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She also lectures post-grad students in Marketing and Advertising Communications at the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business; and works with the global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council in the Africa region. Specialising in local and Africa consumer trends, Louise is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger this decade.
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