Not Just a Feel-Good Story. Global retail specialist Smollan, representing some of the world’s most loved FMCG and commerce brands, looks at responsible retail in sub-Saharan Africa where business activities have a positive effect on the environment and society – effortlessly and efficiently, but also kindly.

Back when the pandemic raged, businesses had to chart new territories as the shock-on-effect spilled over into every crack of society. Opening up opportunities on the one hand and laying bare flaws and injustices that have to be corrected on the other.


The future of commerce over the next decade, armed with lessons learnt from the past two years, indicates that everything around us will become more intelligent, communicative, and connected. New kinds of networks, devices, interfaces, and Ai will help us augment, enhance and optimise our lives. People will become more informed, aware, and empathetic than ever before having re-evaluated their priorities over the past two years – bringing that mindset to bear on brands and retailers.


In this hyperconnected world – where people are omni-consumers, and their purchase journeys hyper-personalised – companies have to consciously create intelligent commerce solutions that allow for transformative growth. At the same time as the lines blur in traditional retail – purpose and profit have to work interdependently as unprecedented social and environmental challenges are laid bare such as economic inequality and climate change.


At Smollan we have termed this purposeful way of doing things ‘kind commerce’ – where business activities have a net positive effect on the environment and society. Not as a nice to have, or part of a CSR program but instead a standalone, thoughtfully curated move to make a real difference.


Globally, as chat rooms have lit up and frustrations taken to the streets in a world where things can change for good or for bad in an instant, how businesses execute on purpose and responsibility is now more important than ever. Where, in addition to building a financially successful company, they also need to measure success through their impact on people and the planet.


The business case for kind and caring commerce is growing where companies give more to the world than they take.


We’ve seen it in the numbers where people are finding a stronger sense of agency over how and where they spend their time and attention. 62% of consumers are today shopping with their values [Accenture]. Globally, 85% of people indicate that they have shifted their purchase behaviours towards being more sustainable over the past five years [The Global Sustainability Study 2021], and 50% of Gen Z are adopting more sustainable behaviours more than any other group. Of which a further 45% have indicated that they had stopped purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability concerns [Deloitte]. So too the workforce is taking a stand with 75% of Millennials saying they would choose to work for a responsible company, even if it means less money.


The opportunity space for kind commerce to grow as we support the next generation of consumers, presents infinite possibilities to create new value with a refreshed focus for the things that matter. To do this companies must constantly renew their ideologies – moving over and handing over – and systematising end-to-end inclusion adopting a radically inclusive way of doing things. By re-building the commerce value chain or refreshing existing efforts in amplify this space. Unilever for example wants to ensure that by 2030 everyone who directly provides their goods and services will earn at least a living wage. Africa’s largest FMCG retailer Shoprite Holdings Ltd has committed R50 million in support of future SME development. Smollan’s ‘Household Hope’ recruitment program, hiring people from zero income households and disadvantage backgrounds, is helping break the chain of abuse, minority group segmentation and create job opportunities for the differently abled.


So too the shift has been observed around sustainability as retail is re-built, and the value chain becomes more circular. Supply chains are being transformed to reduce their negative impact on the planet to upscale the positive, as it’s time to play the long-term game. Companies have to recognise that the economy is embedded within, and dependent upon, the living world as they become nature positive. To do this, they need to consider how to play in a more circular model of retail and what the future of sales and merchandising looks like in a packaging-free world. On track to make a significant impact, Tesco partnered with Loop, integrating a reusable packaging scheme across its stores and delivery services and in Africa, Smartfill introduced a refillable solution that will eliminate single use plastic and increase food security.


Performance partnered with purpose needs smart leadership, inclusivity, collaboration, and excellent communication. Where kind commerce and responsible retail is integrated as a matter of principle. On the understanding that consumers are demanding to be part of a more profound picture, that shows a greater appreciation for life.