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Just 3 words bring ecommerce to anyone in SA

A simple addressing system comprising three random words means everyone on the planet can quickly direct anyone to their location

With courier deliveries booming due to the rise of e-commerce in South Africa, few customers are aware of the obstacles and complexities that face drivers in seeking to deliver a parcel on time, and to the exact location. The legacy of apartheid spatial planning has meant that many South Africans still fail to own a clear or adequate address, which causes frustration for both the recipient and the courier company, while placing drivers at risk.

An innovative use of GPS technology has been tackling this challenge. What3words, which is developing a global standard for communicating location, has given a unique three word address to every single 3x3m square of the country – and the rest of the planet – so it’s easy to find and share any exact location. 

Now express parcel experts Dawn Wing have teamed up with What3words to allow anyone, anywhere in South Africa to describe their precise address using just three words and discover them in four available languages: Afrikaans, Xhosa, IsiZulu and English. For example, instead of saying, ‘I’m in Mabopane, near the church and opposite the field’ callers can now say ‘I am at archives kickers slides’ and be located accurately. 

Many South Africans already use what3words to help people find their homes and businesses more easily, displaying their 3-word address on their websites, business cards and entrances, or simply giving, or asking for the 3-words in advance, providing a precise destination or meeting location. Apps, websites and devices accept and display what3words  addresses, from e-commerce websites to navigation apps and car navigation systems. 

“With this technology, it means we can pinpoint the recipient to within three metres and ensures accuracy, reduced delivery time, but also supports more accountability from the driver,” says Hilton Eachus, chief customer officer of DPD Laser, which trades as Dawn Wing,

“If the driver can’t deliver the parcel, it will not be because he cannot find the recipient, it can only be another difficulty, like a diversion or traffic, for example. In a highly competitive and demanding marketplace, the use of intelligence and accountability are a vital partnership.”

Dawn Wing driver Nasser Abrahams says: “Sometimes it can be complex to track down the exact location, so this grid system approach makes it incredibly accurate. As drivers, we can’t afford the time to go to the wrong address and are understandably nervous to find ourselves in a dangerous place. We share the same desire as our customers – a parcel to arrive on time and safely.”

Says Eachus, “We decided to partner with what3words for a number of reasons. It’s important that anyone who requests a parcel delivery receives one, irrespective of where they live. Secondly, our business customers also want an express parcels company that can deliver on time and accurately – we are an extension of their brand, enabling the important and final leg of the transaction. And finally, we want our drivers to be as efficient and safe as possible.”

The technology is popular around the world, now in 71 countries and available in 44 languages, rapidly adopted by businesses who need to reduce margins for error. 

The success of the tool has also had an impact on emergency services.Thousands of people struggle to tell emergency services exactly where they are and how to find them. In areas without addresses, callers are often only able to provide vague descriptions or references to landmarks, which means emergency services spend vital minutes, and often hours, searching for those in need of urgent help. For this reason, Vodacom  has zero-rated the what3words Find Me page, meaning no data is used for emergency services. 

Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO of what3words, said: “It is exciting to see what3words helping to change the lives of South Africans every day – whether that is providing them with a way to give their location in an emergency, or with Dawn Wing, being able to ensure their delivery can be made to exactly where they need it.”

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