Global retail specialist Smollan, representing some of the world’s most loved FMCG and commerce brands, considers the impact eCommerce has had on the retail landscape over the past two years and how physical retail finds the space to join the party.

eCommerce took off during the pandemic and physical retail initially felt the hard landing as the landscape shifted overnight and eCommerce became the ‘go-to.’ During the early stages of COVID-19 as observed in a McKinsey article December 2021 – the pandemic essentially squeezed ten years of digital sales penetration into three months. In response, retailers scrambled, innovated, and adapted their distribution and brick-and-mortar operations to keep pace.


The article observed that globally, eighteen months later online sales have shown few signs of reverting to pre-pandemic levels and that retailers that may have initially viewed eCommerce as a lifeline now recognise a few truths – all growth is not the same; unprofitable growth destroys value; and healthy, sustainable growth should be the goal. So too it was observed that direct-to-consumer capabilities are primed to take advantage of amplified eCommerce and presents the best opportunity for innovative brands and retailers to build direct relationships with consumers.


As both the retail and eCommerce space shifts and accelerates, and despite eCommerce blowing the lights out in early 2020 as shoppers became accustomed to buying essentials and embracing a vital world, as it turns out physical retail is not dead.


In a recent Martech article, Tracey Ryan O’Connor, Group Vice President at tech company Qubit observed that, “As in-store and online shopping merge, eCommerce will explode in 2022. While shoppers are returning to physical stores, we’re not seeing a decrease in online shopping – in fact, we’re seeing continued growth. In 2021, we saw more people starting their shopping journey online, searching for the products they want at the best price and the actual transaction happening in-store. Even when the pandemic dissipates, online shopping will continue to flourish because this behaviour is now ingrained and habitual.”


How to adapt to this blended online/in-store experience will be the key, adding that she believes that “this will be particularly important for retail sectors where shoppers still prefer an offline component to the experience however in the end, we anticipate the online performance to decline because stores have reopened.”


2022 Predictions making space for eCommerce and physical retail, point to several key considerations, potentially the most relevant is this merging of blended experiences in-store to that offered online, in the knowledge that the product discovery journey will be individualised and that eCommerce will be the engine that drives this merge.


Local property fund Emira’s COO Ulana van Biljon, said that the experience economy of enjoying a physical space is what South African consumers value the most. The pandemic certainly created a space in the market for players quick out of the starting gates to accelerate eCommerce, with some of the most rapid responses coming from retail tenants that have some of the biggest footprints in Emira malls. Checkers Sixty60, Pick n Pay asap! and Woolies Dash are all eCommerce success stories. “Involving shopping from the shelves of their physical shops, making brick-and-mortar even more relevant in today’s market,” said Van Biljon.

To stay ahead, retailers will need to adapt their eCommerce and offline retail strategies.

Michael Smollan Chief Innovation Officer at Smollan said, “I love physical shopping. Everything about it, the browsing, the feeling the coffee stops in between and best of all, the dopamine hit on purchase. That said, online provides the effortlessness and ease that means I can get what I want, when I want and so too, this fills my cup. A good digital shopping experience is all the way as good as its physical counterpart and the result still is that dopamine injection! It’s all about the experience of the purchase. They have different experiences physical and digital but that’s not to say one is better or worse if they are both done right. Innovative retailers who make my shopping experience seamless, interesting and engaging with win, whether its in the real world or the digital one.. It’s not so much about competing with online vs offline, it’s about the experience.”


To guide retailers and help them crack the code in 2022 with eCommerce everywhere and physical retail here to stay, the Martech article offered the following predictions. Empowering in-store staff to offer shoppers a seamless transition from digital shopping to the in-store experience itself and taking a holistic approach to brick-and-mortar that is focused on helping shoppers transition between physical and digital interactions, must be a priority. AI personalisation will evolve to deliver more highly customised experiences in 2022 with algorithms meeting the demands of individual customers. So too, ads will be more shoppable says CEO Oz Etzioni of ad platform Clinch, “This requires layering of first-party data and personalisation that reflects a shopper’s environment including time of day, weather and more.” Digital communities such as social media platforms will become major sources of shoppable revenue which means brands and retailers will be looking beyond Facebook to diversify. Rob Van Neunen, CEO of Channable predicts that TikTok alone will generate nearly two billion users in 2022, with social commerce revenues poised to reach $50billion.


Online shopping is a convenient, permanent fixture for consumers in 2022 while physical retail hits the spot as it serves a basic human need for interaction and the use of our senses.