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Etail expectations rise

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The increased connectedness of consumers is contributing to a more dynamic environment – one where expectations on what the buying experience must entail are evolving, says LEON COETZER, UK CEO of redPanda Software.

Thanks in part to the African mobile phone market that was expected to grow 6.2 percent quarter-on-quarter at the end of last year, people across the continent have come to rely on their devices as an important part of the retail process. In fact, the Online Retail in South Africa 2016 report published by World Wide Worx shows online retail accounting for one percent of the overall market in that year, equating to more than R9 billion.

In January 2018, South African retail sales showed that the market appears to be strengthening with a 3.1 percent year-on-year growth rate. And while there is still a long way to go, consumer confidence is also on the increase.

Technology provides an important link between the bricks-and-mortar and digital retail worlds. While consumers in the United States and United Kingdom are embracing a [predominantly] online-only buying experience, the South African market still requires a more integrated approach. Not only is this necessary to cater for those people who do not have access to online solutions, but consumers here still prefer the tactile experience of visiting a store.

Not just e-commerce

The gap between the customised and highly-personalised online environment versus the more traditional storefront is still significant here. Consider how your favourite e-tailers ‘know’ your likes and dislikes, purchase history, and can predict your wish list. Compare that to a shop environment where sales assistants have no insights into your buying potential and cannot offer any real value in terms of your purchase history.

Even e-tailers with shop fronts are not able to link the two, and cannot benefit from the online data they have at their disposal. Bridging the gap between digital and physical is now a key competitive advantage and those that can master it will drive growth into the future.

This will see retailers requiring an integrated platform to enhance personalisation and the customer experience. Imagine walking into your local coffee shop and making a purchase using your cryptocurrency of choice. From a retailer’s perspective, the potential of leveraging internet of things (IoT) insights into the store to take care of stock management, lighting and temperature control, and even water and electricity monitoring are immense.

Value-driven insights

Using a solution that can pull different products into a single platform empower the retailer to have that 360-degree view of their customers. Being able to pull together all user interactions, engagements, and transactions, and create a more tailor-made in-store experience, are essential elements to move away from the silo approach of old. Yes, it is a challenge to consolidate all the information from often quite disparate sources and analysing it in virtually real-time, but the right solution makes it possible.

Understanding and tracking marketing effectiveness across online and offline environments and determining which demographic gains the most out of a specific campaign, contributes massively to a more targeted sales approach that can be customised even to an individual level.

Retailers need this holistic approach to drive innovation and utilise an omni-channel customer environment. Granted, this is a buzzword that has been thrown around for several years, but it is only now possible to do so with the technology available.

Customisation and personalisation no longer need be limited to an online retail experience. It can transform the in-store one and not only grow customer loyalty but boost the ever-important business bottom-line.

A platform such as the redPanda Software’s Connected Solution uses disruptive technologies for improved customer engagement and to deliver a more inclusive experience across the online and offline sales environments. Furthermore, its partnership-driven approach means retailers can always keep abreast of the latest trends and onboard them into their operations.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

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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