Apparel Retail: its inevitable demise in Botswana

Author : Nomsa Makgabenyane  Source : Weekend Post

The death of retail is a hot topic on the minds of business and economic thought leaders. What does this mean for our local apparel Retail scene and business environment? 

Superstars of Retail, Mr Price Group, accounted a drop in headline earnings for the first time in 16 years. In the year to April 1 2017, Mr Price reported a fall of 10.4% in earnings per share. Before our eyes we saw the 159 year old Stuttafords dissolve despite its efforts.  It’s a tough time for the Retail sector.

Unless you have been living under a rock, it should be of no mystery to you, the way shopping is being done by the urban population in Botswana is changing.  For illustrations sake, several weeks ago, I witnessed a very interesting phenomena, I saw shopping happen, but outside the store. What I witnessed was a delivery being made to a client who had purchased a garment of clothing from a “facebook vendor”. More recently a friend of mine found her dream wedding dress on well-known Ali Express, there will be no need for consumers like her to search through a plethora of retailers.

Retail has been taking place outside the conventional store for some time, however with digital platforms like Facebook, simple Online shopping and Instagram, shopping for apparel has been transformed forever. It arouses great enthusiasm to see young individuals take advantage of this to better their lives, it is a welcomed disruption. On the other hand, does this signify a bleak future for apparel Retail stores as we know them? Yes and no.

Yes because, what we are seeing is a death of a traditional channel.  The “facebook store”, for lack of a better term,  in its nature is more convenient, from the browsing and comparing,  to paying and ultimately  receiving  your desires goods,  its fluid and less strenuous, time wise and on the pocket (although further analysis is necessary to prove the latter). These entities offer free delivery either in Gaborone or in the country, an upper hand in terms of value adding processes, even some of the most popular Botswana owned retailer slack in this aspect.  A consumer browsing through a facebook store during work hours needn’t plan for a trip to a physical brick and mortar store for something he or she likes. If say consumer lives in Serowe / Palapye, the vendor being in Gaborone is not a cause for concern.

Payments are done through varying mobile platforms. The seamlessness of the shopping experience goes a long way in building greater loyalty to these enterprises. With the rise of increased connectivity and consequently a rising number of facebook users in Botswana these shopping experiences  are going to be a noticeable challenge to  conventional apparel Retailers in our economy.

The death of retail will not occur that hastily in Botswana, qualifying the ‘no’ side of things.  Africa has a good 2082 shopping centers, and in Botswana there seems to be a one popping up often.  We can explain this by highlighting a few factors, one of which is the “eating out” experience, which is an irreplaceable and sustains “mall culture”.  Needless to say as long as there is a mall we will see an apparel retailer, but not in the volumes we have always known.

A study* in 2015 indexed Botswana as number two in retail potential, I  believe there is room to question this where apparel retail is concerned. If advanced economies are anything to go by, even peering into neighboring South Africa, apparel shopping at these locations, shopping for clothes at brick and mortar stores is not here to stay. Several stores are not only downsizing but some have totally exited the South African market.


In the digital age, consumers use online stores as a reference point and more often than not know what they are looking for when they visit a store, curbing down unplanned purchases, in this case the channel remains the same.  Yet an interesting counter notion is that physical stores serve as points of reference and comparison, but actual trade occurs with various online vendors, local or international, at a later stage.

Either way, consumer behavior has been altered, and in Botswana it is the social media stores which we can use to an extent when explaining these dynamics. What then for Botswana owned apparel retailers, how do they avoid having a white sheet of paper spread out on what would have been their store front? The death of retail is slow one, but that is no reason for comfort. It’s slow but also inevitable.

To survive, retailers in Botswana should make adequate advances towards R&D for appropriate Channel Strategies, suitable to our changing market. R &D firm Seriti Insights is undertaking the generation of these strategies, the outcomes of which should be interesting. Once again these disruptions are welcome in my view, disruption to things as we know them allows for great opportunities for development and growth of new ideas. Young people behind social media stores do deserve consideration and support. It will not be instant but the apparel retail environment needs surveillance, as does the overall death of Retail.


By Nomsa Makgabenyane  for Weekend Post