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What Amazon’s 20th means

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Yesterday marked Amazon’s 20th anniversary. SONELIA DU PREEZ, Country Marketing Manager at EMC Southern Africa reflects on how far the industry has come over the past two decades.

Yesterday Amazon celebrated its 20th anniversary. As well as being yet another indicator of how quickly time passes, the anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on how far the retail industry has come over the past two decades and how far it can still travel.

Amazon’s success has to a large extent been born of data. It has, for example, used customer data not only to make the retail experience simpler, but also to personalise it. The idea that an online shop would recommend new purchases based on past choices was truly revolutionary and an early indicator of the promise of big data analytics.

Over the next 20 years online shopping is going to evolve further and will eventually completely overwhelm the retail space – to the extent that the traditional bricks and mortar based retailer will have to innovate significantly to remain relevant.

Technology will strengthen customer experience

Indeed, it is possible that many shops will become little more than showrooms for products that can only be bought online. Consumers will also leverage data more – to identify where they can obtain goods at the lowest price with the best customer experience. The most successful retailers meanwhile will continue to use technology as an enabler to strengthen and deepen relationships with customers. Customer loyalty will be achieved (both in terms of attraction and retention) by improving the customer experience.  Technology will be the key enabler here to ensure that customers will be provided with the best and same customer experience through every touch point.

The impact of data analytics on the online world will continue to be huge. Today online retailers can, if we ask them to, remind us of birthdays and anniversaries. In the future, not only will we be reminded of imminent birthdays but predicative analytics will be able to choose the perfect gift and even write the card for us. No more missed celebrations, and no more gifts destined for the bin.

Making mobile work harder

If the future of retail is predictive, it is also mobile. All online businesses will in the future be built from the mobile device up. Improvements in smartphone software will mean that the ‘Siri’ of the future will be even more impressive. Drawing on vast data lakes, our digital avatars will become shopping assistants, recommending new retail experiences based on our individual tastes and habits. Consumers will be able to set these retail avatars according to taste. Some consumers will abdicate responsibility for all shopping tasks to these digital assistants, safe in the knowledge that the choices the technology makes on their behalf will be as good or better than the ones they would make for themselves.

Interestingly, this digital shift will also see a decline in impulse buying. Big data, mobilisation and social media combine to mean that find exactly what we want, when we want and where it is cheapest. The days of browsing through stores and stumbling across goods may well be coming to an end, a trend that will impact on the ways in which brands market their products in the field.

Delivering to the customers’ needs

Finally, there is every reason to believe that the way in which goods are delivered is set to change. Social network delivery services are going to disrupt the industry, allowing users to order delivery-on-demand. This will impact the way in which users can receive deliveries. For example, it will be possible for shoppers to have drivers wait while they try on the clothes they have ordered, and then return unwanted goods by the same courier. The whole experience will be much more focused on meeting the customer’s needs rather than those of the delivery company or retailer.

The possibilities digital transformation promises retailers and customers alike are endless, and over the next twenty years the options made available to consumers will increase exponentially. New Amazons will emerge with business models that we can scarcely imagine today. One thing is for certain however – it’s going to be a very interesting couple of decades.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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