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Microjobbing to the rescue

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South Africans are finding it harder to make ends meet with the ever increasing costs of petrol, electricity and personal tax. However, the rise of microjobbing platforms like M4JAM (Money 4 Jam) are making it easier for the average person to make some extra cash, writes ANDRE HUGO, Co-Founder of M4JAM.

Thanks to rising electricity rates and fuel prices, not to mention an imminent increase in income tax, making ends meet as a South African has never been harder. Now more than ever, we need to find alternative ways to make it to the end of the month and microjobbing in the digital space is a great opportunity of doing so.

In March this year, South Africans were warned to prepare for an even higher cost of living, with economists forecasting price hikes from April. This followed Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene’s budget speech outlining a one percent increase in personal tax (the first in 20 years), as well as increased fuel levies and sin taxes. We’ve already seen this come to fruition with the recent R1,60 petrol price increase, coming soon after the short-lived joy of the petrol price decline at the end of 2014. Along with these price hikes, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has said that electricity prices are set to rise by an average of 13% for the year from April until the end of March 2016.

These heightened expenses make life difficult for the average South African to make ends meet. In fact, the 12th UASA employment report said that the last time the average person’s disposable income increased faster than his or her gross salary was in 2008. Once expenses such as taxes, UIF, municipal rates, medical aid and other necessities are taken care of, the average adult has less than 17% of his or her gross salary available to spend. And it’s not just the low earners feeling the pinch – roughly 70% of South Africans earning up to R1 million annually are living beyond their means and struggling to make ends meet, according to a study by Old Mutual.

But  it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. With the rise of the digital economy and microjobbing platforms like M4JAM, the way we define work is evolving and the boundaries between work and play are blurring. This is why the concept of microjobbing is really taking off; allowing people to use the mobile devices that have become so much a part of their lives, to complete small, simple tasks in the course of their daily lives – in exchange for much needed cash when their formal income just doesn’t cut it.

In the short time that M4JAM has been around, it’s been incredibly insightful to discover the ways in which our ‘jobbers’ find creative ways to leverage the platform and get as much return as possible. For some, it really does mean the difference between just scraping by or having some financial peace of mind; for others, it means they can continue to enjoy the finer things in life even when rising living costs make this more difficult.

We’ve recently been involved in a study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute to better understand the digital economy and its societal implications, and some of the Institute’s discussions with our jobbers illustrate just how much of an impact microjobbing can have. With proper planning, it’s possible to make up to R500 per week, working just a couple of hours a day, perhaps on their way to and from a full-time job. We’ve heard stories of jobbers being able to buy half a week’s worth of groceries or paying for petrol with their microjobbing earnings, and others have even been able to afford their medical bills, rent or pay off some of their loans thanks to the series of small tasks they have completed. Some have managed to put some of the money away as savings despite rising living costs, while others have managed to keep enjoying an occasional meal at a restaurant – a luxury when money is tight and each bottle of wine or beer will set you back an extra 15 cents.

M4JAM is not an alternative to having a formal job with a regular salary, but it certainly helps when money is tight – and let’s be real: when is it not, given our ever-increasing expenses? It’s about not accepting the status quo that you can’t make ends meet; there is always a way to make some easy money, even if it’s one job and R20 at a time. Now more than ever, the question becomes a reality: can you afford not to be part of the digital economy?

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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