Sage South Africa Newsroom

It’s time to change how you think about retail

27 November 2017

By Charles Pittaway, Managing Director of Sage Pay

The word ‘change’ is a common one in retail settings.

Getting it rightSephora, the world’s largest specialty beauty retailer, has successfully merged online and offline channels to provide a unique consumer experience.  

  • Its award-winning Beauty Board is an interactive, online shopping gallery that broadcasts user-generated content. Shoppers can browse pictures of real people wearing Sephora products and buy the looks they like. Shoppers can even smell different fragrances on a touch-screen device that blows the scent in their direction with a connected fan, and Digital Trend Tables display the store’s best-selling and best-reviewed products in real time.  
  • The Sephora mobile app hosts a Virtual Assistant tutorial tool that shows users how to complete a make-up look and then add all the products to their carts with one click.  
  • An augmented reality feature allows shoppers to “try on” make-up by holding their phones in front of their faces and flicking through colours.  
  • The Sephora chatbot discusses all things beauty with shoppers and helps them find products.  By integrating its online and in-store channels, Sephora is creating memorable, sharable and repeatable retail experiences.


When you try on clothing, you do so in the change room; if a dress you bought doesn’t fit or you change your mind, you exchange it and, with any luck, after money has changed hands, you’ll get some change back.

Did you know that, historically, a ‘change’ was a place where merchants met to do business?

Ironically, we’re on the cusp of massive change in the retail industry, driven by unstoppable digital disruption, new technologies, and changing consumer demands and shopping habits.

E-commerce boom
According to the Salesforce Shopping Index, digital commerce grew 19% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2016, with mobiles accounting for 52% of all shopping traffic and 30% of all orders. In South Africa, online spend is expected to grow to over R53 billion by 2018. Online spend via mobiles increased 65% between 2015 and 2016, and is expected to increase by a massive 123% by 2018, presenting an opportunity that local retailers cannot let slip.

Here are some of the biggest changes we expect to see in the retail industry in the coming years:


  • All the connected things. One of the main benefits that the Internet of Things (IoT) brings to retail is the ability to optimise logistics, supply chains and inventory. With beacons, sensors and RFID tags, retailers can track and trace not only the movement of products but also how they were treated and what state they’re in. The IoT also enables retailers to deliver on the instant gratification that consumers have come to expect. A move towards just-in-time retail requires lean, efficient processes that allow retailers to serve customers quickly and to hone-in on demand and upsell to customers as they move through the store. In fact, IDC predicts that in-store contextual marketing will be one of the fastest-growing cross-industry IoT use cases between now and 2021.
  • Move to mobile. Retailers who don’t yet have a shopping app are already on the back foot. Give consumers a good reason to download your app by offering, for example, discounts on purchases made through the app, or a voucher to redeem against their first app purchase.
  •  Click and compare. Consumers are taking online product and pricing comparison to a whole new level. 55% percent of consumers want to virtually view how a couch, for example, would fit in their lounge before buying it. Technologies like virtual and augmented reality allow consumers to ‘try things on for size’ without ever leaving their homes and will drastically change the shopping experience.
  • Click and connect. Consumers want new ways to engage with brands and products, and social media is becoming increasingly influential for retailers who want to target new customers. Retailers are now taking it a step further by offering free WiFi in stores, which enables them to collect data about their customers and use that information to tailor their marketing messages.
  •  Make way for the bots. Chatbots, real bots, cobots… some retailers are already using machine learning and artificial intelligence to serve customers quicker and to make personalised shopping recommendations: 37% of consumers have used a digital assistant to build shopping lists or place orders.
  • More ways to pay. The Sage Payments Landscape Report found that consumers expect businesses to provide a range of payment options beyond credit and debit cards. Some local retailers have started experimenting with cryptocurrencies and mobile loans. 65% of consumers also say that online wallets make a business seem modern and progressive.

The future shopping experience is personal, immediate and manned by bots who can find us exactly what we want, in the right colour and the right size. And it will fit perfectly.

Wouldn’t that be nice, for a change?