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Don’t build a shop, build a customer journey

DPO PayGate processes payments for over 10 000 online merchants in Southern Africa. BRENDON WILLIAMSON, CSO at DPO PayGate draws on the company’s 19 years’ experience to offer some advice to companies looking to build repeat business in the digital marketplace.

From the moment they click onto an ecommerce site, customers develop a lasting impression of your brand. Creating a frictionless environment with an outstanding customer journey is helping even small, boutique offerings significantly boost their bottom line. 

The last mile is the most important

Despite what many think, we have seen that the delivery of goods and services is the make or break of an ecommerce offering. 

The importance of this last mile service is clearly demonstrated by industry stalwarts like Takealot (which acquired Mr. Delivery) and Yuppiechef, which put their own branded drivers on the road. The companies which have succeeded in the local market know that how fast you receive your item or service is the last, and most indelible, impression left with a customer. 

Strangely, some of the biggest, and arguably most respected, retail bands still don’t have this part of the journey right. Fixed delivery charges can leave a bitter taste with customers. Being charged R150 for the delivery of a R50 item means shoppers will simply go elsewhere to buy or, at best, wait until they have a big enough order to make the delivery charge worth their while. The irony is that many of the big brands who employ this delivery billing model are the same companies which have spent millions on improving their checkout processes in their physical stores. 

A site’s returns policy is also important. If there’s not a quick and simple returns policy shoppers are left disillusioned and unlikely to ever use the service again, much less recommend it to their friends.

Allow reviews – customers trust other customers

As consumers we want to know that someone else has done what we are doing and that their experience was good. Allowing reviews on your site means first-time users will see that others have successfully transacted with you and this de-risks the transaction for them. 

And these reviews don’t all have to be glowing. Humans are, by nature, forgiving creatures. If we see that there was a glitch in the process for someone else, but the business was willing and able to quickly resolve the problem, we know that if we run into trouble there will be friendly staff who are able to assist us. 

In fact, the human element should never be underestimated. De-risking the transaction process means having someone available to help at every stage of the customer journey. Some ecommerce sites have built their reputation around excellent online service. For instance, if a customer is inactive on a page for any length of time, they should get an onscreen prompt with a sales assistant who is able to guide them through the process and even help them find the particular product they may be looking for. 

We trust what we know

The look and feel of the site can also help shoppers feel secure. Designing your site to have the same visual and experiential feel as the well-known ecommerce sites can help alleviate discomfort. Of course, companies should ensure their site is beautifully branded and clearly differentiated from their competitors, but the layout and step-by-step process can be modeled on those sites which have proven conversion rates. 

The same could be said for security. While many customers are not necessarily looking for security seals, having your SSL security certificates up to date is imperative. Online banking has taught the average consumer that they should be looking for the ‘https’ in the URL bar as a minimum. 

When it comes to payments, ensuring your customer has their preferred payment option is always a must. Having a complete bouquet of payment offerings including card, Instant EFT, and app-based payments such as Zapper and PayPal means you are far less likely to lose a customer as they are about to pay. 

Make you sure you have value-adds 

Buying goods and services online takes the personal touch out of the shopping experience. You miss out on the well-trained, smiling staff who can entice customers to support one store over other. Since there are so many online options to choose from when buying a product or service, adding unique value-adds can boost the first experience and lead to repeat business. Giveaways, free delivery, discounts, and coupons to share with friends all go a long way to make customers return and refer your business to their friends. 

Create interactive websites 

A common failing of some ecommerce stores is not updating their sites. It is important to ensure that you show that your products are selling. This could be done by having a top ten purchased items section or a ‘what’s hot today’ deals space that change regularly.

Using 360-degree images also go a long way to make customers feel confident about their purchases. More interaction can also be boosted using newer technologies like augmented and virtual realities. Experiential marketing is now making online shopping more exciting than real-world experiences and is helping companies to not only push merchandise, but build brands that excite and capture the imagination of the customer. 

You’re not a number, but you are producing data

So much is being written about big data and machine learning to crunch the numbers and come up with meaningful insights into customer behaviour. While the larger companies are all using this now, even the smaller ecommerce sites can use their existing site information and analytics to look for trends. Analysing user behaviour leads to better user experience. Even small tweaks to the existing model can have a significant impact when it comes to basket or trolley abandonment and companies should be paying attention to these details. 

Although it’s coming off a low base, ecommerce in South Africa is growing at a phenomenal rate. Ensuring you have designed a frictionless customer journey can set your company apart in an increasingly competitive market. From design to delivery, every user touchpoint is vital. 

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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