South African consumers are looking for a more personalised shopping experience, and are willing to share information about themselves with their favourite retailers, in order to educate brands on exactly how, when and where to approach them.

This is a key finding of IBM’s Institute of Business Value Annual Retail Consumer Survey of more than 28,000 consumers globally, of which 1800 participants were from South Africa. The survey is the largest of its kind and was comprised of face-to-face interviews as well as reviews of more than 1,2-million documents – publicly available videos, tweets, Facebook updates, discussion boards, blogs and newsgroups – over a six month period using IBM Cognos Consumer Insight, a social media analysis tool.

According to Gerard Dumont, Retail Industry Solutions Manager for IBM South Africa, it’s no longer about just catering to the growing use of technology and understanding a smarter consumer for retailers and consumer product companies. It’s about winning the consumer over by understanding and then anticipating their behaviour and preferences, engaging with them on their terms.

According to the study 80% of South African consumers surveyed want to use some technology in the shopping process. 22% are willing to use three or more technologies in the shopping process. “The results indicate how retail in South Africa is shifting to digital.” says Dumont.

Typically South African consumers surveyed see digital shopping as more convenient. 45% of South Africans believing websites will save them time and 92% of South Africans believe a social network will save time and will be convenient. 70% of consumers surveyed aren’t interested in shopping on a mobile devices but 80% want to use mobile to checkout. Social videos are “interesting and relevant” but not yet considered as a channel.

“Retailers always had to win over the consumer by establishing trust. Before it was easy, now it is much a harder.” says Dumont. “An empowered consumer controls the brand today and retailers need to shift from“how loyal are my customers to me” to“how loyal am I to my customer.”  That’s a significant mindset change.”

The study revealed that when it comes to customer advocacy and spend, trust matters. “ Trust is created through both the retail and product experience as well as the communication from the retailer. Trust drives  advocacy and advocacy drives spend.

56 % of consumers  trust friends, family and even strangers reviewing consumer products, more than they trust consumer product manufacturers or retailers.

Just as we chat with our local shopkeeper, consumers are willing to talk to retailers about their media usage (75 percent); demographics (73 percent); identification, such as name and address (61 percent); lifestyle (59 percent); and location (56 percent) for a more targeted and smarter shopping experience.

Interestingly consumers told IBM that they actually want to receive more communication – not less – from their retailer but they want it to be delivered through preferred media channels and in a relevant way.

Retailers must not only consider the wants and needs of individual consumers, but also understand how consumers engage in virtual communities to share ideas, tastes and buying habits.

IBM’s research shows that retailers must provide clear compelling reasons to shop; deliver personalised offerings and reach shoppers when and where they prefer, in order to win over their wallet share.

While digital is becoming a reality, 95% of South African consumers surveyed still want to use the store to shop. Typically for the touch, feel and experience.

This means the consumer experience from research to purchase needs to be truly integrated and one that engenders trust for the brand across a multitude of platforms.  “In South Africa the store is still vital to fulfilling consumer purchase.” says Dumont.

But retailers can listen to and learn about their customers using sophisticated analytics technology to gain insight and adjust their marketing messages to address what they are hearing in the wires.

Savvy retailers are responding to this need and using sophisticated technology to make sure every  interaction with customers is spot-on, based on individual preferences, location and lifestyle.

“South African retailers are making advancements into digital but they need to consider how they win over this empowered consumer based on re-establishing a trusted relationship and building loyalty through improving the store environment, product assortment and store communications.” says Dumont.