The best retailer in South Africa – according to shoppers

 ·9 Jun 2023

Research and consultancy firm PwC has published the first-ever Retailer Sentiment Index for South Africa, working with social media analytics company DataEQ to track and measure how consumers feel about the country’s biggest retail brands.

The group tracked and assessed over 1.5 million social media posts relating to retailers and categorised them as either positive or negative, which was then processed to determine a net sentiment score for each brand.

The brands tracked include Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar, Checkers, Shoprite and Food Lover’s Market. Posts were tracked between 1 January and 31 December 2022.

While the firms did not reveal the scores for each brand tracked – making comparisons between them impossible – Woolworths emerged as the clear winner among all the brands with a net sentiment score of +19.2%, far ahead of the industry average of 3.3%.

Of the six brands tracked, Woolworths and three others scored positive sentiment, while the remaining two had negative sentiment.

Woolworths also dominated across all three satisfaction drivers tacked in the assessment, having the lowest negative score for customer service, and the highest positive sentiment score for pricing and product offerings.

“In pricing conversation, consumers debated the affordability of Woolworths, with many saying that the retailer was relatively less expensive than some of the other brands,” PwC said. “Under product-related mentions, Woolworths was lauded for its house brands and high-quality goods.”

When it came to customer service, however, even the top performer saw an overall negative net sentiment – indicating that customer service remains a big point of contention in South Africa’s reatil sector.

“That said, Woolworths did experience significantly fewer customer service complaints than the rest of the industry, with positivity stemming from compliments towards service received from staff such as cashiers and floor staff,” PwC said.

Customer service complaints for all retailers tended to centre around turnaround time, staff conduct and staff competency.

“Staff conduct and competency both contributed significantly to this negative conversation, as consumers raised concerns about the service they received from cashiers at some of the

“The biggest driver of complaints across the industry, however, was slow turnaround time, which comprised almost half (49.8%) of all negative conversation around customer service. This highlighted consumers’ high expectations for fast and efficient service both online and in-store,” PwC said.

While Woolworths is the top-ranked retailer in the country, there are a few instances where it was given a run for its money in the eyes of the consumer.

Given the prevailing economic hardships South Africans face, pricing is a huge issue and shoppers are hungry for special deals.

Looking at special offers, Spar emerged as the top retailer for launching great deals, driving positive sentiment. PwC noted that Woolworths was a close second, however – and the retailer still emerged at the top for its overall pricing net sentiment.

When looking at loyalty programmes, Checkers’ Xtra Savings ended up being the most favourable, despite being second in terms of its overall distribution (Pick n Pay Smart Shopper has a larger volume distribution.

Looking at the wider retail segment, PwC noted that the country’s retailers achieved a positive overall score of 3.3% and outperformed local telecommunication and insurance companies, but underperformed banks in a cross-industry Net Sentiment comparison.

“The banking sector drove large volumes of positivity towards their product offerings, as well as reward and loyalty programmes, as the message that banks were giving back to customers during tough economic times, where the basic cost of living is on the rise, was well received.

“They also made significant improvements in their branch experience as the channel came out net positive for the first time in eight years.”

The insurance industry saw positivity towards engaging and consistent experiences for its customers, citing staff competency, staff feedback and staff conduct as among the most positive.  The industry also saw noticeable improvements in the ease of use of their digital platforms as consumers could complete simple tasks through apps.

The telco industry was once again the lowest performing, with an average Net Sentiment of -14%, which was heavily impacted by poor customer service.

“Certain telcos drove positivity in their investments to maintain network connectivity during load-shedding, and their influencer strategy of driving acquisition campaigns online resulted in purchase interest and conversations about switching operators,” PwC said.

Read: Grocery shopping is changing in South Africa

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