Technology: improving the retail experience in South Africa
Technology has entrenched itself into virtually every industry, and retail is no different. A recent report from Forrester lists the top four retail tech trends as; personalising the shopping experience, investing in omnichannel, leveraging predictive analytics and enhancing the in-store experience through digitalisation. These trends are highly focused on improving existing retail operations rather than overhauling retail through innovation.
In South Africa, digital efforts by retailers continue to be hampered by the high costs of bandwidth. However, South African retailers are still investing in these tech trends to reshape their offering; improve operations, reduce costs and expand their reach.
Collaboration and partnerships
The lines between different retail segments are blurring, as retailers step out of their traditional offerings to bring customers new, value added and unexpected services and products.
Through strategic partnerships, local retailers have expanded their offering to include financial services, municipal account payments, coffee stops, entertainment ticketing, gift vouchers for services like Showmax and Uber, multiple payment options such as cryptocurrency, and innovative delivery options for both in store and online shoppers, such as delivery pods located at your nearest petrol station.
Retailers have also partnered with online platforms offering multiple products to extend their reach, either in lieu of or as an extension of their own online portal.
These additional services and products are making it easier for shoppers to spend more time in their stores, minimising the need to make multiple stops with an “everything under one roof” policy. At the same time, some of these partnerships allow retailers to leverage the benefits of technology without necessarily making an investment of their own.
Improving the instore experience
Despite the rise in ecommerce, South African retail is still heavily dependent on foot traffic and having a brick-and-mortar presence. Retailers are turning to data mining and analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), to gauge their market and predict their consumers’ spending habits and browsing preferences. Using this data, they can proactively target individual audiences, customising and shaping their offering specifically towards individuals. This vastly increases the possibility of customers spending with their store/brand, while also engendering loyalty.
In terms of operational streamlining, technology is providing a platform for retailers to gain more accurate insights into stock movement and levels, enabling them to more efficiently move slower moving products with strategic campaigns in a smaller space of time.
Retailers are exploring sensor data and real-time analytics to quickly decipher which product lines are selling out and which need a push at any given time. Adding in AI, they can promote slower moving stock to customers at the check-out point with almost immediate effect, saving costs on storage, lost profits in stale stock and logistics spent to move unsold stock.
Predictive buying patterns also enables retailers to stock their stores based on regional demographics and demand better than they have before, minimising the risk of stale product.
Retailers can look at things like self-service checkouts to streamline the payment process provided that the cost of bandwidth becomes more affordable. An “honesty till” requires some sort of camera verification or confirmation to minimise the risk of theft, and the camera quality, real-time alerts and back-end analytics are heavily reliant on high speed connectivity.
Technology in unexpected areas
We are seeing unexpected technological advancement in the manufacturing sector, where traditional manufacturers are overcoming economic decline by expanding into the retail space and connecting more directly with consumers themselves.
For example, car manufacturers are leveraging applications and other online platforms to engage directly with customers, allowing them to customise their purchase at the manufacturing point. In the construction space, tile and fittings manufacturers are providing customers with technology centres where they can use an application to plot their living space and get a virtual impression of the final product, so customers no longer need to take a selection of samples home with them to choose from.
Technology is also making itself felt in underlying areas of retail, improving efficiency and reducing costs. Brick and mortar stores are very dependent on expensive utilities, such as cooling, electricity and light. Smart devices can be deployed to measure and monitor use, automatically adjusting based on occupancy or peak times, helping to reduce costs.
Ultimately, local retailers are turning to technology and digitalisation more to drive foot traffic, increase in store customer engagement, move stock quicker, appeal to the younger, new generation of shoppers, and improve on their overall customer experience, rather than becoming entirely disruptive.
Retail is still retail. It’s just getting better.
Simon Shaw is the Business Development Manager of Retail and Consumer at Wipro Limited, Africa
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”