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Brick stores must learn from online

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Brick and mortar stores are starting to respond to changing consumer behaviour by tying the in-store and online shopping experience into one connected experience, says LEON COETZER, COO of redPanda Software.

Online shopping has never been easier or more intuitive. You’re at work or laying in bed, and with a simple click of the mouse you can book a dream vacation or the latest curved smart television, or your weekly groceries can be delivered to your doorstep. And, even better, most often the online shopping experience just gets your preferences right”.

“Today, consumers have the upper hand when it comes to the experience they demand in-store,” says Leon Coetzer, COO of redPanda Software. “Brick and mortar stores are starting to respond to changing consumer behaviour by tying the in-store and online shopping experience into one connected experience.

“This paints an interesting picture of where consumer spending is heading and the direction brick and mortar stores need to take to attract new customers and win the loyalty of existing customers. In the face of this worldwide trend, there are some traditional brick and mortar stores that are really pushing the envelope in customer experiences and have successfully adapted to shifting consumer preferences using e-commerce capabilities, mobile applications and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

In the past, says Coetzer, retailing was a relatively simple business: “You selected the right product range, bought the selected products at the lowest possible price and at the right quantities, merchandised the products in your stores, managed stock availability with supply chain efficiency and marketing efforts, and at the end of the retail cycle you exited old lines with minimal cannibalisation. Simple.”

Today, however retailers are faced with different challenges. Retailers need an integrated technology platform to streamline processes, such as stock count, temperature or lighting regulation and to intimately know and predict consumer behaviour with data analysis to push personalised promotions through mobile.

“The brick and mortar retail industry is probably the most cut-throat industry when it comes to engaging consumer spending, but a decade ago Amazon had successfully figured out how to personalise a customer’s experience by tracking spending behaviour. If you can pull this principle through to a large grocery chain, you have a profitable retailer offering their customers an intimate experience.”

Coetzer outlines a few areas where South African retailers are beginning to leverage the many promises of IoT and big data:

Enhancing customer experience, building loyalty 

Retailers have identified customer experience as the key to building brand loyalty and winning share of wallet. To harness customer data, turning it into accurate customer profiles, and using it to communicate more targeted promotions and discounts, retailers need one integrated data platform so they don’t have 20 versions of the truth.

Monitoring inventory, reducing waste

While the customer is receiving personalised offers sent directly to them, one of the biggest concerns for retailers is tracking inventory to keep stock levels up at a cost-efficient level, and in real time. By implementing an ecosystem of connected devices harnessing IoT that constantly monitors stock levels and inventory, today’s retailers can eliminate waste and boost revenues.

Optimising asset management

Through a well-implemented and consolidated network of connected devices, companies can better manage and optimise their key assets and equipment. For example, smart sensors can begin to pick up key trends, and allow retailers to become proactive and pre-empt possible system or hardware failures or glitches.

Boosting productivity and engagement 

As many brick and mortar stores are closing down, and as a result, are laying off thousands of employees, it is important to remember that great, knowledgeable and loyal staff are worth their weight in gold. It can be the difference between profitability and failure. It is important to harness compelling data to track employees and monitor their performance to identify a problem before it influences employee performance and the customer experience.

“Retail stores 100 years ago knew their regular customers, down to their clothing sizes and family members,” Coetzer points out. “However, the massive scale of today’s retailers makes it impossible to know your customers. Being able to now analyse the data, IoT has the capacity to bring these valuable customer insights to brick and mortar companies. It is finally replicating at least some part of the personalised experience of a century ago. Now it’s up to retail companies to implement a simple and customisable integrated technology platform to leapfrog business forward.”

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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