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Blockchain can change retail

The retail industry has undergone a transformation with technology and online shopping retailers are spying ways to hang on to traditional shoppers while diversifying both their channels and their wares, says JAQUELINE VAN EEDEN, Business Development Manager: Retail and Consumer Industry at Wipro Limited, Africa

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Cryptocurrency and the blockchain

The wave of cryptocurrency has lapped over the world, garnering the interest of even the most guarded and technology-reluctant folk. Retailers have cottoned on to this trend, with leading South African retailer, Pick n Pay, trialling Bitcoin payments mid last year. Despite the fact that they have not proceeded beyond trial, Pick n Pay spokesperson cited cryptocurrency as a “game changer” for the retail space, and one which will inevitably be accepted as tender as it matures.

Meier, says however, that it is the technology behind cryptocurrency, called blockchain, which is making a more tangible impact on retail.

“Retailers are exploring blockchain technology to drive core processes such as buying and reselling of stock and regulating logistics. Use cases are gaining traction virtually on a daily basis. Beyond cryptocurrency, the blockchain can also facilitate other payment methodologies, such as voucher or barcode payments, which will eventually encroach on traditional payment methods,” says Meier.

The custom customer

Customer demands are changing, partly because of new shopping habits brought about by technological advancements such as shopping apps, and partly because of the advent of an entirely new generation of shoppers who’ve been born to a world of instantaneous delivery. A natural follow on from this is customisation.

Consumers today are uniquely positioned to demand what they want – and get it too. Meier points out that retailers are leveraging big data and analytics to tailor their services and products to the market. In some cases, going as far as to customise for individual consumer requirements. Customers are reaping the benefits of on-demand products and delivery, from whichever platform they feel most comfortable using.

“Customisation is gaining popularity in the likes of fashion and the automotive industry. The line between retailer and manufacturer is blurring – both have begun selling direct to the customer and retailers have invested in their own private label products. Retailers are moving into the manufacturing space, making use of technologies such as the blockchain, 3D printing, augmented reality and online app-based customer design platforms, where customers can simultaneously create and buy their own unique version of a product.”

It’s all about choice

Consumer demands and retailer’s access to technology are creating an effective meeting or engagement point between customer and retailer, where more choice is available either through the method of purchase, such as apps, or method of delivery, as with subscription-based buying.

“Products are increasingly being offered as a service, a prime example being upcoming car subscription services such as Volvo’s Care,” says Meier. “Retailers in other industries are also exploring this type of offering or looking at ways to integrate service offerings into their delivery, either themselves or through strategic partnerships with emerging players.”

For retailers, leveraging start-ups that can add value to their own customer service, becomes cost  effective way of boosting their offering without building or retaining in house services of their own. Meier offers examples of replacing an in-house logistics fleet through partnering with a start-up transport service, or using the likes of PayPal or Zapper instead of traditional Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems to supplement cash and card payment options.

Electronic tokens, SMS and WhatsApp have become normalised interaction channels, particularly for retailers that target the youth. Retailers are using the likes of WhatsApp for more than just communicating with customers; it’s being used to transact, confirm payments and orders, and to inform customers of important information, such as delivery status.

Challenge of change

Meier poses that the challenge with these platforms – as with shared delivery platforms – however, is that they are difficult to monitor and manage.

“While there is value and costs savings to be had by chasing these technologies and partnering with emerging players, in that retailers are able to focus on their core business, measuring the success and true value of these ventures still poses a concern,” explains Meier. “Retailers still rely on records such as delivery notes, purchase orders, etc. For these platforms to be successfully integrated into operational functionality and become auditable, they need to tie in with the retailer’s financial system – which many don’t as yet.”

Keeping it all secure

Where financial information is disclosed, there is always a risk of security breach. Retailers are investing heavily in security measures such as encryption to minimise this risk, boost consumer trust and mitigate potential damage to their reputations. The use of multiple interaction channels such as WhatsApp can be a concern, as the security of these platforms resides with the platform and not the retailer.

“Most shoppers are familiar with the scams out there, such as phishing sites and poor security when buying from sellers via online platforms. Introducing rating systems helps to boost buyer trust and makes buying and selling on these platforms safer, by virtue of using only well-rated sellers. Consumers need to actively use the trust facilities available to them,” says Meier.

Goods-in-transit security is another concern. The introduction of smart dashboards in vehicles, and IoT devices to monitor loads, is opening the door for their use as a security and communication tool, enabling monitoring of goods-in-transit while offering other benefits, like proactive vehicle maintenance.

Change is happening

It’s not the retail industry as a whole that is necessarily driving the demand for technology though. Individual retailers are exploring things such as disruptive payment systems, ways of outsourcing their logistics requirements, or methods to engage with customers through third parties who offer multiple brands across all sectors on a single, interactive platform.

“There is a technological convergence happening in the market place, where consumers can access whatever they are looking for across different traditional industries, in one place, and have it delivered in a manner of their choosing. Maintaining pace with this expectation, and innovating to meet it easier, quicker and with better returns, is driving technological adoption, even as technology drives the change,” concludes Meier.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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