About 87% of respondents in a survey conducted by Deloitte Consulting believe their organisation does not have the right leaders in place to face disruption.
The survey also showed only 11% of respondents believe they have the right talent pool to face disruption.
This was despite most of them believing their organisation would be disrupted in the short term.
Deloitte regularly polls companies to understand trends among the workforce. The research, while not specifically conducted among retailers, was cited by a Deloitte executive at the SA council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) on Thursday.
"What the retail sector needs to address is how to get the right leaders to lead from the front.
"It is about modernisation of companies and how they operate," Corniel van Niekerk, an associate director at Deloitte Consulting, told delegates.
"The retail sector has to to rethink whether it truly understands consumers. A retail store is no longer a fancy warehouse at the end of the supply chain. It is about how to generate an experience."
Van Niekerk believes retailers must consider how to adopt a data-driven approach in decision making, adding that the ability to conduct data analytics correctly is essential in order to link data to insights and decisions.
"Nine times more data will be created this year than in the previous history of mankind. But it is about analysing the data," he emphasised.
He suggests that retail companies "think like start-ups" – coming up with new ideas yet being willing to "kill" it before it reaches scale if it is not working.
'A new adventure'
"Retail is on a new adventure. It is a scary and uncertain time, but maybe also a time offering the most opportunities. The customer is in charge, but fundamentally the next move is the retailers. They just have to figure out what it should be," he suggested.
"We live in a digital era, that is true, but customers expect infinite options, on demand, and in real time. Data creates a lot of 'noise' around us, but how do we make it practical?"
In his view, three fundamental factors are driving retail change, namely technology shifts, the convergence of cross sectors – meaning competitors can be anyone, not someone already in your sector; and customers evolving in how they want to their retail experience to be.
"Data can help retailers to enhance the customer experience throughout the shopping journey. Technology can be used to determine how people move through your store. Then you can reconfigure your store, for example," he said.
"It is about how to motivate the right behaviour and how to get feedback on a day to day basis. Digital is not about creating an app to play around with, but to think differently on how and what to solve for customers in a digital manner."