We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.

Trading Places

 Trading Places

Ian Gourley

Creative Director Barrows


I’ve been in this industry for close on 28 years and, if asked at any stage, I have always responded on how exciting things are and how everything is always changing, as well as how fast it’s all happening.

That said, I’d have to come up with a whole new set of adjectives to describe just how much is going on right now.

Turbulent, dynamic, fluid and disruptive all fall short of describing the whirlwind that retail has become.

These are hugely exciting times and are certainly not for the faint-hearted, the procrastinators, or the risk averse.

It’s during times like these that entirely new models are born. Rules that we thought were robust are being blown apart and “try, fail, learn, repeat” has become the innovation mantra by which we have to live on a daily basis should we want to stake a claim in the new frontiers that retail is opening up.

It has been widely acknowledged that the future of retail will be a combination of bricks and clicks, and that the shopper journey is now comprised of multiple touch points, both in and out the store. This makes the delivery of a truly joined-up and cohesive campaign very challenging for brands and retailers alike.

We’ve seen a huge surge (led by retailers and key brands) to reinvent complete categories and stores across the retail landscape in South Africa. There has been a concerted effort

to stem the flow of shoppers trading online and to turn stores back into what they should, or always have been - “trading places” - where the hustle and bustle of the store acts as the lure that feeds our basic instinct to see, touch, smell, try and actually engage with products.

Some retailers have gotten this right in their new store designs, and others, not so much. The takeaway is that there is now a groundswell to transform the physical store and it’s great to see new things being tried and boundaries being pushed.

As shoppers experience more and more personalization on their devices in the form of absolute, laser targeted and relevant adverts, they will come to expect the same of the physical space. However, the struggle that retailers face is that digital formats are infinitely easier to change and update than a physical store space.

Redesigning these new store formats while at the same time retaining a “trading” feel is a balance with which many are struggling. These trading places also need to be incredibly agile. The aisle and gondola set ups that work mid-week and at the beginning of the month may not be what works best for weekends, month ends, or special occasions. To future proof the stores retailers should be baking this agility into the store design, not bolting it on afterwards. Logistics and cost savings will drive communication in stores over time towards digital executions that can be distributed nationally, at the touch of a button, and localized to the specific store and its relevant shopper profile.

Big data is allowing us to craft hyper- personalized promotions, deals, and communications. Getting these to reflect in the physical space is going to be what separates the good from the great.

Challenges the retailers face as brands try to reach this level of personalization, is how to accommodate consumers in-store and how to manage what will become a digital conversation with shoppers. New infrastructures and skills will be required to support these digitally- enabled and experience-rich stores.

Brands still require platforms in the store to bring attention to their new launches, innovations, and promotions because shoppers still love to go and find out what’s new, what’s trending, and what deals are on offer.

These behaviors have played out in the digital space (only re-enforcing what we know are basic human behaviors) and should continue to reflect in the physical space. What retailers need to craft are the platforms that can best reflect and amplify their own brands, as well as the manufacturers’ brands.

I don’t believe that we will ever trade the places we shop completely from physical stores to soul-less screens. I see screens being used in the store in conjunction with mobile devices to dramatically enhance the shopper’s experience and to help them on their quest to find the best deals and products.

If we ensure that stores remain what they have always been – “trading places” where communities and societies came together to interact, experience new things, and engage with product - the retail landscape that lays before us will be the richest yet and our enjoyment thereof will reach an all time high.