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. â€¨
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. â€¨
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO CHANNELS
â€¨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.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”