TALKING SHOP: REVIVING RETAIL
INTRODUCING YOU TO OUR NEW BLOG …
People enjoy buying from people – and that is probably why the Covid-19 pandemic had such a massive impact on retail in South Africa and, more specifically, the actual shopping experience.
By that, I don’t necessarily mean simply buying bread and milk or even the month’s groceries. That is what I like to call chore shopping – something that adds stress to my day, especially when I get to look at the ever rising prices of goods on supermarket shelves of late.
Let’s face it, no-one enjoyed donning masks and incessantly sanitizing every time you needed to buy the most basic of items. It was a case of grab and go rather than linger and enjoy. That age-old art of browsing was suddenly extinct.
Like so many women, I simply stopped buying clothing or make-up or perfume. After all, there was no-where to go and nothing to do. The day-to-day transactions remained but it was if someone had turned the shopping world black and white – gone was the colour, the fun, the anticipation or the fascination.
For me, shopping is more about the experience – something that Old Mutual Properties and Umhlanga’s Gateway mall termed “shoppertainment” about 21 years ago when they began to try to convey the message that shopping was essentially an outing with both a practical and an entertainment element attached to it.
For them, it was probably more about giving the rest of the family something to do whilst others shopped up a storm. You could try climbing a fake rock face, riding a fake wave or even going to the theatre. Not surprisingly, all that has gone and most of the in-mall entertainment seems to be more closely aligned with actually shopping these days. But it remains an important factor in the whole shopping expedition.
I’ve always believed that you shop with your eyes, your fingers, your sense of smell and your hearing rather than simply your purse. After all, there’s a lot more to be said for the feeling of a soft jersey or a fluffy toy than for the sensation of a plastic card slipping through one’s fingers.
Similarly, unless you get a kick out of leafing through galleries of photographs, online shopping doesn’t offer that element either. It’s convenient and often offers its fair share of savings but, for me at least, there’s little to appeal to the senses.
Perhaps that’s what this is all about. Those of us who are old enough to remember a shopping experience that wasn’t confined to a laptop or a shopping mall have a mental picture that is unlikely to be repeated.
My most enjoyable shopping experiences actually had nothing to do with money at all. My wonderful grandmother, who always exited her home perfectly made up and with matching shoes and handbag, loved window shopping. It was a different time with its own politically instigated ugliness but it was also a safer time when one could stroll down what was then Smith or West Street in the Durban CBD and take in the window displays. Better still, you could mosey along the pavements one block back from the Golden Mile and take in the surf shops with the ultimate reward of an ice-cream on a sticky, humid Durban night.
Another memory was buying school shoes from Cuthbert’s in central Durban. There were shop assistants armed with strange contraptions that measured your foot whilst you were seated in an island of beautifully upholstered chairs. then that same shop assistant simply disappeared in to the back of the shop to find the right sized shoe. You tried it on and then trotted to a mirror to check how it looked.
The actual transaction itself was even more thrilling. The notes that were handed over by my Mom were inserted into a shiny tube and then sent hurtling up to the floor above with a loud pop. The same tube brought the change back a short while later with a customary clang.
It will also come as no surprise that I still love specialist shops that seem to be coming back, thank heavens.
We’re told, by researchers, that the post pandemic shopper is craving authenticity and that consumers are parting with their money when brands stand for something meaningful and items bought bring with them a sense of achievement and aspiration. Without even realizing it, I think that we hanker after that wonderful feeling that so many of us had when we’d saved up for a big ticket item and finally scraped together enough to make that long anticipated purchase.
Somehow, presenting a credit card and being left with the agony of multiple payments stretching the budget into the future doesn’t bring the same satisfaction.
Perhaps all of this reminiscing explains why, for me, an intrinsic part of leisure, travelling and visiting interesting places is always linked to shopping. I always look for the shop – even if it is an over-priced curio store that is only good for browsing.
When my husband and I visited Old Town during a trip to Zanzibar a few years ago, we made our way into the more authentic shopping lanes and, with the help of a rather cheeky youngster who claimed to know all the best deals, worked our way through the tiny shops and came away with brightly coloured fabrics, leather sandals decorated with beads and shells and lovely jewellery – not to mention two paintings of figurines which still hang on our lounge wall today.
After that, we made a point of buying something special every time we visited a more exotic spot and our home is really a canvas of memories that is uniquely ours.
Because we both love good food and wine, we have also loved visiting specialist butcheries and bakeries, shops selling cheeses and delis with fresh local fare. That’s probably why I had and will always have a soft spot for the Midlands Meander which not only allows one to find really unusual pieces but to also experience the creation process and even chat to those who make the goodies and man the outlets that you explore.
That is probably a good enough explanation for why we decided to create a blog called TALKING SHOP. There is a lot to be said for travelling and a lot to be bought en route, so we’ll be sharing both favourite shopping spots and the more unusual places that we discover en route.
Expect everything from delis to furniture shops, from old junk shops to high end boutiques and even décor shops. We’d like to celebrate creativity and imagination and find those unusual places with dusty doors through which you might not always poke your head.
On a slightly more sober note, my background in business journalism does always bring me down from the heady heights of shopperholicism to the practical realities of retail and we will be using this blog to also highlight some of the many issues that impact on our everyday shopping experiences as well.
These days, we need to be wiley about how and why we part with our hard-earned cash and business owners (and especially large corporates and online retailers) need to treat consumers with consideration and respect. One rule remains from those heady days spent skipping past windows along West Street – a good customer experience brings someone back. A bad one always means you’ll tell someone else and not return.
Loyalty and trust are as important as glitz and glamour and we’re going to try to share shopping trends and insights that will help you enjoy shopping all over again. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share interesting visits and coax you from your arm chair so that you can visit interesting shopping centres and support local crafters and businesses.
We’ll also ask questions that need to be asked and hold businesses accountable for short changing consumers.
Shopping, retail, consumerism … call it what you will, is a vast topic. We hope that we’ll entertain you and delight you as well as educate and inform you as we start TALKING SHOP.
Watch out for next week’s visit to the delightful Tweedie Junction in the almost non-existent tiny town of the same name in the Midlands.