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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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