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Opportunity in disruption

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When people talk about ‘digital disruption’, they tend to focus on disruptive opportunities for start-ups, but SMEs should also be thinking about what a wave of unprecedented technology change could mean for their companies in the future.

Smaller businesses are as exposed to the risks and opportunities of new technology as larger companies – if not more. Savvy small business owners should thus be looking at their own markets to anticipate how technology will change their operations and the ways their customers behave in the years to come.

Disruption occurs when a new player comes into an established market with an innovative way of doing things that changes the game for everyone else – usually driven by clever use of technology. For example, the entertainment industry was disrupted when music and movies turned into digital products (downloads) and then into services (streaming).

This trend has already had a major impact on many smaller businesses – for example, family-owned bookshops and video rental stores have needed to create new opportunities for themselves. Overall, digital technology creates some wonderful new ways for Small & Medium Businesses to reduce costs, reach new markets and grow revenues.

Here are some ideas about how Small & Medium Businesses can use disruptive technology:

1.     Fintech revolution – new solutions for small companies

Financial technology (fintech) companies use technology to make financial services more efficient. For example, companies like Sage Pay make it easier and more affordable for Small & Medium Businesses to transact securely online. This, in turn, means that it is simpler and more convenient for small businesses to trade nationally and internationally.

2.     Entrepreneurial opportunities built on other organisations’ platforms

One exciting trend is the way that companies like Uber and Airbnb help people to create new businesses opportunities for themselves, often with little investment than some of assets that they already own.

For example, you can become a driver for a ride-hailing company or rent out a spare room in your house via the Internet. If you’re pursuing another dream business idea, this can help you bring some revenues in while you are still busy building your company. It can also become a business in its own right.

The platform companies do the marketing, provide the website and transactional system, vet customers and suppliers, and connect entrepreneurs with people who need their services. The barriers to entry are quite low and the profits can be attractive.

3.     Low-cost, high-impact technology

Cloud (online) applications make software like accounting systems, CRM packages and payroll solutions more affordable to Small & Medium Businesses. Essentially, they turn what used to be a large upfront capital cost into a small monthly expense and give smaller businesses access to secure, world-class software.

But the cloud also makes it faster to put great technology in place for your business and gives you more flexibility to add users and functionality as your business grows. Cloud computing allows you to work anytime and anywhere – just so long as you have an Internet connection and a device with a modern web browser. It also promotes collaboration.

4.     Ways to shave expenses

In a tight economy, Small & Medium Business owners welcome any way to reduce costs without compromising on quality and service. Many technology services allow them to meet this goal. For example, fintech can make it cheaper to take and process payments, ride-hailing services are an affordable alternative to taxis, and even accommodation sharing sites have more affordable properties that are suitable for business travel.

5.     Driving down marketing budgets while keeping the personal touch

Social media and search are changing the ways that big brands do their marketing, and entrepreneurs are also starting to catch on. Twitter, Facebook, Google and other online services offer a range of affordable and even free ways to promote your goods and services. They also offer you easy-to-use analytics tools so that you can track your performance.

We’ve seen many small businesses, such as restaurants use Instagram to show their delicious dishes to potential customers. A DIY store can shoot some simple videos with a digital camera or even a smartphone to show people how to install a shelf. The beauty of this is that you’ll get instant feedback and find new ways to create customer relationships by interacting with people online

Closing words

In a time of seismic technological change and digital invention, our smart people are using the smartest technology to reinvent and simplify business accounting. Our research teams are working on making concepts like the Internet of Things, machine learning, blockchain and data sciences into a reality for African businesses, accountants and partners.

Small & Medium Businesses that see these technologies as an opportunity to create new services, markets and processes will position themselves for strong growth in the future.

* Anton van Heerden, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director, Sage South & Southern Africa

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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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