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Tech offers infinite opportunity to retailers

By GARETH HAWKEY, CEO redPanda Group



Although the local economy is creating a tough operating environment for South African retailers, technology is providing near-infinite opportunities for savvy retailers to drive sales and bottom-line growth. From seamless online shop fronts to digitally enabled payment systems, the right technology – underpinned by the most suitable retail software – can transform small retailers into global players, and established retailers into innovators and trailblazers within their vertical. Understandably, however, many decision-makers within retail are daunted by the question of what technology and software to employ within their environment. Retail technology, and technology in general, is fast changing…and it is nearly impossible to stay abreast of the changes and developments when you are immersed in your core business (i.e. retail).

This naturally creates the question: how does one approach the challenge of technology implementation and software rollouts within one’s retail environment, and particularly within a specialised environment – such as furniture, or credit? All too often, the answer to this question is to simply do nothing, and keep pressing ahead with operations as usual. Indeed, when margins are tight and consumer and business confidence is low, this can seem like the safer option for retail decision-makers who are first and foremost focused on survival.

The bad news? When it comes to technology in today’s digital-first era, doing nothing is equivalent to going backwards. Today, success in retail is undoubtedly defined by the consumer experience, which is being shaped and driven by world-class back-end software and innovative technology. In short, every retail player, no matter their specialisation or vertical, has to be taking definitive steps forward to implement new technology that is underpinned by agile, tailored and responsive software. For savvy retail decision-makers, the best way to ensure success in a specialised retail environment is to find an experienced and innovative software or technology partner to develop a highly tailored strategy for the technology rollout.

Key insights into local retail challenges

Given the complexities of today’s fast-evolving enterprise technology landscape, retailers need to look for a technology partner that has demonstrated knowledge and expertise within the local retail sector. This deep experience within retail is absolutely vital – as it enables the software partner to develop a solution that is finely tailored to your specific retail environment (and the challenges and opportunities currently shaping it). In addition, an immersive understanding of the local retail context also enables this partner to include elements in the technology strategy that speak to unique local pain points: for example, in South Africa there is a high demand for quick and accessible in-store credit.

Independent & uniquely experienced

Importantly, as retailers embark on a technology journey with a trusted partner, it is increasingly beneficial to work with a software specialist who has extensive experience in building bespoke solutions and customizing packaged solutions. By being completely independent as both a technology advisor and solution provider, this partner is then able to give the retailer advice and options that are highly suited to their specific environment and phase of technology development. More often than not, being solution agnostic enables such a partner to provide retailers with a tailored mix of technology solutions that allow the retailer in question to remain responsive and adaptive to the fast-changing needs of customers. In essence, the retailer is not contractually bound to expensive products or software that lock the business in for many years (making the retailer less able to respond to changing consumer trends).

Efficiency where it matters the most

Given the current financial constraints that many local retailers are facing, new technology and software rollouts have to be implemented in such a way that retailers still retain close control over their retail environment and can tailor the business rules to speak to specific in-store demands and pressures. Such control requires the presence of a trusted, transparent and responsive software partner that has teams who are experienced in specific retail verticals. These teams can ensure quick response times, as well as immediate support should it be required – preventing any risk of downtime or inefficiencies when it really matters. The highly responsive nature of such a partner also ensures the speedy release of updates or changes to the software environment, which ultimately translates into a more responsive and efficient consumer experience on the shop floor.

Looking ahead, although the outlook may be challenging for South African retailers, they can undoubtedly achieve quick efficiency wins (coupled with valuable, long term benefits) by choosing an experienced and specialised local retail technology partner…


Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving



For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit

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Coronavirus to hit 5G



Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
Rest of Market13941165
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
Rest of Market99%85%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here:

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