By Jessie Taylor


The retail sector in South Africa is the second-largest employer after the government and the third-largest sector of the South African economy. It is estimated that the sector employs more than 20% of the South African workforce.

A key revenue generator

The largest retailer in the country boasts a market capitalisation of R130-billion, more than its next two competitors combined. The landscape is dominated by several high-profile organisations that reported a 3,1% increase in revenue in 2021, according to Labour Research Service’s Retail Sector Report 2022.

However, retail is still not performing at the levels it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. This was especially clear during 2021, the first 11 months of the year saw the total retail trade sales 4.7% lower than during the corresponding period in 2019. The sector has more recently been hampered by power cuts, inflation, high-interest rates, and the conflict in Ukraine’s impact on supply chains.

Financial pressures faced by most South African household mean that consumers are now spending less on alcohol, clothing, eating at restaurants, furniture, appliances and hotels. The pandemic also led to changes in the way households shop, with more moving towards online shopping than visiting retail spaces.

Although the sector is a key employer, there remains a significant wage gap between the highest and lowest-paid workers. To address this, some retailers have established a minimum wage of more than 8% above the national average.

Earnings in the retail sector

  • In 2022, on average general assistants and trolley collectors earned around R4500 per month
  • Cashiers earned slightly higher at around R5000 a month
  • Managers earned around R9000 per month


Remuneration increases:

  • On average, from 2020 to 2021, average total executive remuneration went up over 100%
  • From 2020 to 2021, the average non-executive remuneration went down by 1,8%.
Smiling African American cashier sitting at checkout. Cheerful bearded young man in eyeglasses at workplace. Shopping concept

A move towards online retail

The pandemic caused retailers to increase their online capabilities and resulted in most major retailers releasing same-day delivery services and Rapid Grocery Delivery apps.

In the last two years, South Africa’s online retail has more than doubled. At the end of 2021, online retail was estimated at 4% of all retail in South Africa, with some retailers recording online sales ranging from only 2% to 5% of total sales.


Uptake of online retail shopping: 

  • In 2022, 28% of connected South Africans reported using a Rapid Grocery Delivery (RGD) app in the last month.
  • 49% of respondents said they used an (RGD) app at least weekly
  • 62% of respondents said they intend to use an (RGD) app more often.


Untapped potential

The retail sector is one of those affected by the Employment Equity Amendment Bill of 2020, which was signed into law last year and is set to come into effect on 1 September 2023. The Bill introduces various amendments to the affirmative action provisions of the Employment Equity Act of 1998. These new provisions aim to achieve more rapid transformation in the workplaces of designated employers. 

The amendments will empower the Minister of Employment and Labour to set sector-specific employment equity targets. These sectoral targets may differentiate between occupational levels, sub-sectors, regions, or any other relevant factor.

Among the sectors that this will apply to are wholesale and retail, education, accommodation and food services, and financial and insurance activities. Consultation with these sectors has already been completed.

To incentivise employers to meet targets, the amendment states that certificates will be issued if the employer has complied with any applicable sectoral targets or has raised a reasonable ground for non-compliance;  has submitted its most recent employment equity report; and has, within the previous year, has not been found to have breached the prohibition on unfair discrimination, or paid wages below the level of the minimum wage.

These certificates will be important in securing state contracts, and non-compliant companies could face fines of between R1.5 million and R2.7-million.

A new online assessment system will be created to monitor the implementation of sector targets. The first year in which the sector-specific targets will apply is 2024.