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Getting ecommerce site mobile-ready can beat loadshedding

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The Online Retail in South Africa 2019 research study by World Wide Worx and Platinum Seed reports that online retail growth continues on a steep trajectory. In the forward to the report, Visa points out that South African digital commerce is growing at an impressive four times the rate of traditional commerce and mobile commerce at a whopping eight times. 

While many businesses are making the transition to online commerce, far too few recognise the importance of ensuring their offering is mobile friendly. This could not only potentially cut themselves off from a significant section of their market, but also mean they miss out on the chance to secure their business against external threat like loadshedding. 

Find your shoppers wherever they are

The prospect of  further load shedding continues to cast a pall over South Africa’s economy. In its April Monetary Policy Review, the Reserve Bank warned that power cuts through the rest of 2019 could slash economic growth by as much as 1.1% (with its latest review now indicating the economy’s potential growth rate has slumped to around 1%). And with Eskom set to lose more than a quarter of its current generating capacity in the next decade as ageing plants are shut down, power scarcity is here to stay. 

The continuing uncertainty has many businesses making alternative plans, with solar panels and diesel generators selling out around the country. But, according to Brendon Williamson, chief sales officer at Paygate, A DPO Company, companies with an online presence should also be making the most of mobility as a bulwark against losses due to loadshedding. 

“There are three distinct ways loadshedding can affect an online business,” says Williamson. “First of all, a power failure can take down host servers; but this is such an obvious risk we’d be very surprised to find a hosting service that isn’t already robustly protected. The other risks are more pressing: power outages to your offices mean your employees are unable to work or respond to customer queries for hours at a time; and if customers don’t have power, they may be unable to access your site anyway.”

Ensuring websites are properly mobile-responsive can mitigate these risks and enable businesses to keep trading through blackouts, says Williamson. “South Africans are careful to keep their cellphones charged, and many now carry backup power packs,” he says. “If your website is easy to navigate on a mobile phone, your customers can continue to shop even when there is load shedding. In fact, we’ve already noticed some kinds of mobile commerce booming during power cuts, especially food delivery services like UberEats. A lot more people are also ordering their groceries online, rather than take the risk of being stuck in a dark store when loadshedding hits.”

“The most critical step is to make sure your site is using a mobile-friendly ecommerce plugin,” says Williamson. “A surprising number of online businesses are easy enough to browse casually, but fail when it comes to checkout and payment. Making it as easy as possible for customers to pay using their mobile phones is probably the single most valuable change website owners could make right now.”

Williamson says it’s important to consider and test every step of the customer journey with multiple test customers, using multiple devices. “For example, filling out credit card details on a mobile phone is slow and annoying, enough to put many customers off. Using a card tokenization process to store credit card details securely for repeat customers cuts the drudgery. Site owners should also consider adding payment options like SiD (Secure Internet Deposit) for customers without credit cards, if they haven’t already.”

Mobility using a combination of smartphones, laptops and mobile data can also help development and customer service teams alike stay online through outages, adds Williamson. “Being online for customer support is particularly important during load shedding, when people are likely to be more stressed than usual and perhaps trying your site for the first time. If your business is able to respond quickly and appropriately when people need it, this is an opportunity to build a loyal customer base.”

Investments in customer experience will continue to bear fruit long after load shedding ends, concludes Williamson. “The value of online sales in South Africa is predicted to pass R14bn by the end of this year, approaching 2% of total retail sales. That’s still a small base, but it means the potential for growth is enormous, provided online retailers can deliver a great customer experience. A mobile site that’s fast, data-efficient and easy to use, especially for those with more basic smartphones, will be well positioned for future growth.”

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Meet the accountant of the future

The accountant of the future will need a new set of skills, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he meets both the local users and the global creators of Xero accounting software

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Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca get a highrise view of London. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

Meet Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca. They are not only partners in marriage, but also in a thriving accounting business. Buchule and Sivenathi are, respectively, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of SMTAX, which focuses on tax and accounting services for small businesses in the Western Cape, but includes the likes of Absa and Old Mutual among its clients. It employs 18 people and has 4,500 individual and business customers.

That’s not what makes the outfit remarkable. The startling feature of this business is that it has been structured to be a model accounting firm of the next decade. Even more remarkable is the fact that the couple both hail from rural areas where thoughts of the future tend to be about survival rather than blazing new trails.

Last week, they made their first trip out of the country, to attend Xerocon London 2019. This 2-day conference, hosted by the world’s fastest growing accounting software maker, Xero, attracted more than 3,000 delegates from the United Kingdom, Europe Middle East and Africa. A total of 57 Xero partners and users, mostly from accounting practices or suppliers to accountants, made the trek from South Africa.

“It was really about seeing how other accountants on other continents operate in terms of how they think and where their headspace is at,” Buchule told us during Xerocon. “Also, being our first time out of the country, it was to see the culture of other small businesses outside of South Africa. 

“London’s quite different in that regard, but it’s been a really a great learning curve, and we were pleasantly surprised to find elements that look like South Africa, where we can say, at least you’re doing something right. The banking environment is quite unique, as it’s been a really good learning curve in terms of where banking might go to in the future of South Africa if they follow the same trend.”

Buchule comes from the “dusty streets” of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, while Sivenathi grew up on a farm in a deep rural area near Mthatha.

“I had no idea about technology or the rest of the world or how it could impact the economy in general,” she said. The two met at the University of Cape Town, where she was studying to be an actuary, and he completed a Masters degree in tax. She decided to put actuarial science behind her, however, when the opportunity arose to join Buchule’s business. But her skills helped transform the business.

Said Buchule: “When Sivenathi came on board we did the modeling of the business, and we said that in order to in order to automate the whole bookkeeping journey, we would need to turn closer and closer towards ‘x’, meaning fully automated bookkeeping. We looked at the journey of how long it will it take for us to get to time ‘x’. And then we said, OK, once we get there, what then?

“It was a big realization that when we do get to time ‘x’, the most important thing will be the human touch. That will be the differentiator. So we then spent our time developing that.”

Visit the next page to read more about the Xerocon 2019 event.

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Takealot reveals startling numbers for Black Friday

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Takealot has revealed startling numbers for expected bumper sales this holiday season, beginning next week, and peaking with Black Friday.

South Africa’s leading ecommerce group expects to ship at least one order every second, with roughly 10,000 boxes leaving their warehouses every hour, this shopping season. 

Black Friday was first introduced to South Africa by Takealot in 2012, and has since become an important day in South Africa’s annual retail calendar. It has been a record-breaker for both retailers in the Takealot Group: Takealot and Superbalist. Takealot’s Black Friday gross merchandise value (GMV) grew 125% from 2017 to 2018, with orders up 127%. Superbalist’s Black Friday GMV has grown on average around 50%. This year, CEO Kim Reid is anticipating the biggest Black Friday yet, a culmination of months of tech and operational business-wide focus to prepare for increased predicted traffic and shopper volumes.

ABSA bank estimates that two out of three South Africans participated in Black Friday sales in 2018. And FNB reports in 2018, Black Friday transaction volumes grew by 16% compared with 2017 and anticipates a 15% increase in transactions over the sales period in 2019. 

Successfully meeting this massive growth in orders has been a key focus for the Takealot Group. CEO Kim Reid says throughout the year they have been working to scale operations across multiple areas within the business. “After expanding our Johannesburg distribution centre (DC), our warehouse storage space now stands at 75 000m2. We house over 3.7 million items at any given time, and have opened 47 Takealot Pickup Points in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Limpopo, Free State and Mpumalanga for order collections and returns, with more to open in the coming months.” 

Takealot Delivery Team delivers to more South African homes than any other courier company in the country. On a monthly basis, they carry out over 1.6-million deliveries,  with this number expected to increase to over 2-million during the shopping season. More than 4,500 drivers currently deliver for the Takealot Delivery Team; a number that is growing every month. The Takealot group anticipates they’ll travel over 4,000 000km from Black Friday until 24 December. “To put that in context, it is the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe over 100 times” says Reid.

Takealot.com’s Blue Dot Sale is a five day sale period which starts on Black Friday (29 November) and sees a range of new deals throughout the weekend as well as on Cyber Monday (2 December) and Takealot Tuesday (3 December), with up to 60% off thousands of items. For the first time, takealot.com will also be giving their shoppers early access to some of its Black Friday deals, starting on 24 November. Fresh new app-only deals will be added daily. 

The Superbalist Showdown will run from 29 November to 3 December, with up to 70% off more than 15 000+ items. Superbalist shoppers will also have early access to Black Friday deals on selected days throughout November, with Superbalist’s Black Friday Spoilers – 24 hours to shop deals that they say won’t be beaten on Black Friday. 

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