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Omni-channel retail demands the social touch

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From a brand’s perspective omni-channel means leveraging and coordinating the customer experience across multiple channels of communications to understand consumer behavioural patterns with the aim of delivering relevant product information, writes LYNETTE HUNDERMARK, MD at Useful & Beautiful.

The retail shopping experience has changed dramatically over the last few years. Shopping for a Fathers day gift at a local mall ten years ago literally meant trawling the entire mall until a consumer found that perfect gift for dad.

Times have changed as shopping for a Father’s day gift today as a digital savvy consumer would take on a very different experience. Before entering the mall consumers are already empowered with pre-shopping research. Consumers would be aware of deals available at shops that have already sent their promotional offers whether it be via email or apps push messaging, consumers would know what items are on sale, and ‘whats new’ and available in stock.

Consumers would also have likely seen reviews, and images of intended items to purchase via social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest (all of which have popular apps utilized on a mobile phone).The traditional linear approach to shopping is likely to be replaced with consumers walking into a mall and going into the intended shop of purchase, simply purchasing what they had planned to purchase then leaving the store. The post shopping experience is where consumers would then share their shopping experience via social media channels whether it  be anger, frustration or pure delight.

An omni-channel journey is the least customers expect as they increasingly dictate how they want to be engaged and serviced. With the addition of social media and mobile channels, the challenge for brands is to  tailor across all the channels for the finest consumer experience.

The impact social media has on the omni-channel customer journey can range from increasing awareness, influencing purchase,  earning loyalty and gaining brand advocates.

The core idea of omni-channel is a seamless customer experience, that bridges the gap between online and offline. But as we all know that is not easy, because if it was more brands would be winning at it.

While not a silver bullet, social media has made creating an omni-channel experience for consumers more achievable for brands of any industry (not just retail).

Start with the mobile customer ‘who is indeed Queen’

Both omnichannel and social media starts with the mobile consumer. With 23.6 million smart phones as reported by Mobile Consumer in SA 2015, World Wide Worx, customers want and expect to be able to contact organizations via social media channels on their phones via the Facebook and Twitter apps or mobi sites and have their questions answered, issues resolved and points of view heard in real time.

Research has shown that at least 1/3 of consumers have contacted a brand for customer service via social media to date and the number is rising. Failure to engage will be regarded by customers as a service failure meaning that consumers are looking for a meaningful real time response from a brand on social media whether it be during  the day, night, weekends and holidays 24/7/365.

Social media has provided customers with a platform on which they share their views. If a brands products, services and customer relationships are good, then their commentary will most likely be positive with greater brand loyalty, better customer retention, more repeat purchases and ultimately higher revenues (and who does not want that??)

When Social Meets Omni-Channel

Consumers are found on social media and can be easily researched from their profile information and engagements.  The data gathered from social media can be used to start the execution of your omnichannel strategy. A consumer-centric strategy includes content too,  therefore use social media to take note of your consumers’ behavior. When do they engage with your posts the most? What content do they like? If you’ve been successful at something, create more content based off of that, for example a case study blog.

Your consumers care about other consumers’ experiences – they are more likely to trust the content developed from experiences,  therefore use them to create consumer-centred content.

Social Media shouldn’t exist in silo

Social media can be a great tool for making the consumer experience seamless. Brands can use social media to respond in a timely manner,  to keep track of every question, complaint or engagement from a consumer. But, social media alone cannot accomplish a truly seamless experience—that takes a close relationship with all your channels in the marketing team.

All the data collected from social media is useless if it never makes it to the marketing team. Creating an omni-channel experience for your consumers’ means creating a unified customer experience across all channels and social platforms can’t be the only area where personal and seamless interactions between consumer and brand occur. Connections between your brand and your consumers should be made between web, mobile and in-store or in-office actions. To execute this cross-platform strategy, your marketing and social media teams need to be in constant communication.

A few days ago I saw a sponsored ad on Facebook by a well established book store encouraging me to update my personal details relating to their loyalty programme,with an incentive of winning a prize. While attempting to update these details, I noticed that the page was hosted on an insecure site and naturally I was hesitant to proceed with the update so I paused and reported the incident on Twitter (as I knew Twitter was likely to have more of an immediate response than Facebook).

It took over a week to get a response from Twitter  with a reply stating that the social media team was not responsible for removing the pages that were hosted and that the appropriate line manager will be informed if I sent further information via email. The conversation was then ended with the page still getting promoted on facebook. This left me and other twitter followers (who were following the conversation) quite perturbed by the response and needless to say, I have not had any immediate incline to use online channels of this book store, and I have also shared this experience with all of my peers.

Winning the hearts of the customer

In our current digital age, omni-channel is no longer a strategy just for retailers. Social media makes all brands accessible and exchanges seamless. On social media you can reach your consumers, research them and personally engage with them. While not the only part of an omni-channel experience, social media does make an omni-channel strategy viable for any business. The key to winning the heart of the consumer is without a doubt listening  and making smart decisions around the conversations (the real time social intelligence should give the team a heads up on what they need to know about anticipating issues, in the case of the book store example, removing the insecure page that was reported), and last but not least giving the customers a quick response without sacrificing quality for speed.

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EV charging becomes reality across SA

Electric vehicles (EV) are becoming increasingly feasible to use, as a nationwide charging infrastructure has been rolled out to charge electric vehicles along main routes.

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Nissan, BMW, and Jaguar Land Rover, in conjunction with the Department of Transport and Gauteng Provincial Government, recently took part in a road trip between Johannesburg and Cape Town using electric vehicles to demonstrate the feasibility of the charging grid.

The electric vehicles used on the trip were the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, and Jaguar I-Pace. These vehicles use the same charging socket, as they all conform to the same electric vehicle charging standard.

“Nissan’s participation in embracing a safe and reliable mode of transport in October Transport Month is both, a pledge and vision for EVs to one day be a holistic reality to transition to smarter and electric mobility for all South Africans,” says Kabelo Rabotho, Marketing Director, Nissan South Africa.

EVRT Africa embarked on the road trip on October 3 to October 10, on the back of the Smarter Mobility Africa conference which kicked off on October 1 and 2. 

The road-trippers embarked from the Sun Arena at Time Square, Pretoria, on 3 October, and headed for Bloemfontein, and then on to Gariep Dam, Graaff-Reinet, Port Elizabeth, Knysna, and Worcester, ending in Cape Town.

The event was opened by Roger Atkins, Founder of Electric Vehicles Outlook (UK), and Azania Mosaka, 702 host and presenter. They were joined by more than 100 experts talking pertinent issues throughout the summit.

For example, Tim Abbott, CEO: BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Jacob Mamabolo, MEC: Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure – Gauteng Provincial Government, discussed how rapid urbanisation has created a need for smarter mobility solutions to address congestion, pollution and traffic accidents.

Rabotho said: “Intelligent transport systems and services form the backbone of smart mobility and a cornerstone of a smart city which works to harness the power of technology in order to improve service delivery and quality of life through the use of sustainable solutions.”

Ben Pullen, CEO at Generation.e said that it is vital for the country to start minimising the challenge of EV drivers not being able to find charging points as it is now more important than ever to start promoting the use of EVs in order to reap the benefits that they provide.

Pullen said: “It is for this reason that South Africa’s first electric vehicle road trip (EVRT), has rolled out EV charging stations powered by ACDC Dynamics, effectively creating a stronger charging network to support the EVRT Africa initiative.”

“These systems and services use technology as a means through which to improve performance, safety, mobility and environmental sustainability. With the correct information and support, the expansion of this industry can create opportunities for local entrepreneurs to develop their skills in a variety of areas such as the manufacture of lithium battery components, the installation of charging stations which can be increasingly powered by renewable energy such as wind and solar.”

One year ago, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande together with his Deputy Sindisiwe Chikunga launched and signed the Green Transport Strategy into law.

Nzimande said the strategy aimed at promoting an environmentally friendly transport system and help boost economic growth as well as creates jobs.

The minister has continued to urge both the public and private sector including the automobile manufacturers to work together with government in reducing the ever-increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

“Through this strategy, we aim to promote green mobility to ensure that the transport sector supports the achievements of the economic growth targets whilst protecting our environment,” says Nzimande. “As we know, transport is the driver of socio-economic development, but of course, our carbon footprint continues to grow at a highly unacceptable level.”

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Perimeter fences get smart

The use of the Internet of Things (IoT), and access to low-bandwidth solutions have meant that fencing isn’t just fencing, not anymore. It’s a defence.

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Imagine being able to detect if an intruder is attempting to breach the perimeter of a property in a remote location? Imagine knowing that your fence can detect the intrusion, notifying the authorities and preventing the intruders from getting any closer to their end goal? In many sectors across South Africa and the world, it has become increasingly difficult to protect and monitor remote areas, preventing unauthorised access to protect both the employee and the intruder. People break in, sometimes without realising the danger, and the business bears the cost and the risk. But this scenario is starting to change. Low-cost technology, the inventive use of the Internet of Things (IoT), and access to low-bandwidth solutions have meant that fencing isn’t just fencing, not anymore. It’s a defence.

“The first line of defence for any physical security system is the perimeter,” says Phathizwe Malinga, managing director of SqwidNet. “It can be extremely expensive to build extra infrastructure around the perimeter to protect it – a fence to protect a fence if you will. This often means you have to pay for extra services designed to support the security provided by the boundary and it starts to feel like a redundant circle of cost and complexity.”

The problem is that often companies don’t know that their perimeters have been breached until it is too late. They can remain undetected and put people at risk. This is particularly true in remote, rural locations across South Africa where vast distances and limited communications make it difficult to consistently monitor perimeters and access. Recently, SqwidNet collaborated with Teqcon, a South African mechanical and electronic design company, to address the problem at the point of origin.

Teqcon specialises in the design and development of perimeter detection devices and they have worked with SqwidNet to launch an intelligent, wireless perimeter solution that uses Sigfox to communicate. Called Wi-i, the solution is ideally suited to adding on that extra intelligent layer to sites that need extra security such as prisons, airports, nuclear facilities, military bases, residential estates and industrial complexes.

“The Wi-i Tremoli and the Wi-i Deflexi are battery-powered, wireless, and simple to install,” says Francois Snyman, Teqcon. “They need zero infrastructure to be installed and their batteries last up to four years, so they are resilient and reliable as well. The Tremoli unit measures the amount of energy that a structure experiences when someone is trying to cut a fence or climb over it. The Deflexi unit is designed to monitor the cutting or spreading of electric fences.”

Both solutions basically sit at intermittent points along the fence and alert the relevant authorities when there is unusual activity along the perimeter. Each one works in a different way, so they are suited to different applications and installations, and each one uses the Sigfox network to communicate across the system. In the past, they could only connect their devices using Teqcon’s proprietary wireless network, or GSM (when available). Now they can use Sigfox for completely independent communication, especially in remote areas where other networks are not available.

“When Teqcon started work on the project, Sigfox wasn’t available in South Africa,” says Malinga. “Now, using the Sigfox network, they can completely eliminate the need for base stations out in the field and the need to implement and maintain a GSM network. This means no unnecessary GSM network subscription costs or coverage limitations, and fewer base station installations, significantly reducing the cost of the solution to client and potential use cases.”

The Sigfox network has reduced the operating and installation costs, improved the accessibility and capabilities of the system, and allowed for deeper integration across different sites and applications across the country. The solution helps to address a challenging issue in South Africa – the remote control of rural sites – and helps the business protect their assets against intruders. Some sites are protected by perimeter fencing because access is dangerous, and this ensures that people are prevented from making a life-threatening mistake. It also allows for the business to minimise investment into extra layers of external infrastructure as it can be simply added onto existing fencing and adapted to suit specific requirements.

“Collaborating with SqwidNet in embedding the Sigfox solution into both Wi-i Deflexi and Wi-i  Tremoli has ensured that we can provide smart, relevant and absolutely secure solutions to the market,” says Snyman.

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