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Switching On | The Role Of Retail In Loadshedding

  • 4 min read

Admittedly seeing another loadshedding article can mean lights out for many – turn the page – next, as the hum of generators trigger a fragile sense of ‘normality’ when all we want is power plays, not dark delays. Despite the severity of the current status quo, humour typically prevails– “imagine what they’re going to say about loadshedding this week on Carte Blanche – I mean we won’t be able to watch it but imagine.”

Mike Smollan, Chief Growth and Innovation Officer from Smollan outlines the real risks that loadshedding and outages pose and the high-level effect on retailers and consumers with a focus on the contingency role of retail support on the frontlines.

‘Permanent Reality’

With businesses looking to recover millions spent on diesel and coping with the levels of flexibility required to operate daily, this ‘permanent reality’ provides the framework for the now. All large retailers are under pressure. Pick n Pay for example, reportedly spends R60 million a month to run diesel generators – making up an additional R346 million spend year-on-year on diesel alone. Costs that will be passed onto consumers in time – a tricky move so says Casparus Treurnicht, at Gryphon Asset Management as retailers will not be able to do so fully, as they are already operating in an environment with sticky inflation. Regarding the mounting pressure on retailers to manage the diesel spike, just last week as reported by CEOs from SA’s biggest retailers expressed their disappointment that government had not extended the new diesel fuel levy fund to food retailers.

Managing the Madness

Despite this, South African retailers and business owners’ innate superpowers around thinking on their feet and coming up with solutions to challenging situations, automatically kicks in. We’ve seen the birth of many entrepreneurial innovations such as Brian Gadisi, Alan Gie and Themba Hadebe from Arion Power who from humble beginnings in a garage in Muizenberg, successfully launched WiBox a mini-UPS to power a router and fibre during power outages. More of that eagerly anticipated as push comes to shove.

So too, not only to keep head above water but to continue being a successful business – loadshedding schedules must be closely monitored (forewarned is forearmed); alternative energy supply considered, and new ways to trade up for review and implementation such as avoiding stockpiling items, how to pack freezers to adhere to strict quality controls along with monitoring fridges. On the ground, let’s also not forget that employees are being negatively affected, losing income when they are unable to work due to loadshedding or because of supply issues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Customer Experience

With the key focus on continuing to deliver excellent service to shoppers, the reality is that loadshedding brings with it annoyed customers. Research indicates that 96% of customers will not return if there is bad customer service [Forbes ‘Achieving Customer Amazement Study’] – employees need to be trained in how customer care needs to shift specifically during loadshedding. How shopper needs must be met despite power being on and off. To get the message across that the wheels will keep turning no matter what.

How is this best achieved?

By giving those at the coal face tech and tools to optimize the way they work. Furthermore, allow for two-way feedback to that they can spot the pinch points as to what’s working and what’s not and offer solutions. Allow them to feel more in-the-loop when it comes to how things need to be managed during loadshedding cycles so they can serve customers in the best possible way. Making sure frontline staff open their minds to different ways of doing better business – where they feel empowered to bring new solutions and strategies to the table.