While the economic environment is creating a tough operating landscape for South African retailers, technology is providing near-infinite opportunities for forward-thinking retailers to drive sales and bottom-line growth.
That said, however, leaders now need to look at every aspect of growth and change management through the lens of Covid-19. Practically speaking, looking through “Covid eyes” means regarding almost every aspect of business, finance and leadership as an opportunity to re-imagine — and to rebuild in a way that reflects the vastly different environment the pandemic is shaping worldwide. This is particularly important when considering partnerships, and how new partnerships can benefit businesses, individuals and the communities in which they operate.
Indeed, we rely on the communities around us to flourish and grow. If we allow other businesses to founder in the aftermath of the crisis, this will quickly impact our own growth prospects and sustainability. So, in looking with “Covid eyes”, we need to retrain ourselves to view every business contractor and customer as part of a fragile yet dynamic ecosystem — and an ecosystem which requires the strong/stable to support the weak/unstable in difficult times.
Re-imagining technology partnerships post-Covid-19
From seamless online shopfronts 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 in retail are daunted by the question of what technology and software to employ within their environments (particularly with uncertainty and new waves of the pandemic fuelling instability).
This naturally creates the question: How does one approach the challenge of technology implementation and software roll-outs within one’s retail environment, and particularly within a specialised environment such as insurance or credit? All too often the answer to this question is to simply do nothing, and keep pressing ahead with operations as usual. When margins are tight, volatility is high, 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 backend software and innovative technology. In short, every retail player, no matter their specialisation or vertical, has to be taking steps 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 in the post-pandemic era is to find an experienced and innovative software or technology partner to develop a highly tailored strategy for the technology roll-out.
Hunt for local expertise
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 in the local retail sector. This deep experience within retail is vital as it allows 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 and 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 customising 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 environment and phase of technology development.
Often, being solution agnostic allows 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 financial constraints that many local retailers are facing in the wake of the health crisis, new technology and software roll-outs have to be implemented in such a way that retailers can 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.
Plan for many different and diverse scenarios
While finance teams may be used to planning and forecasting along specific sets of parameters and possibilities, now is the time to widen this range and work with leadership teams to develop many more scenarios – and proactive responses to each scenario. Without doubt, the pandemic has revealed gaping weaknesses within business continuity planning, and the inability to adjust to different outcomes. Now, finance and business leaders should be revamping these models and placing emphasis on more proactive and thorough scenario planning and strategy.
Key strategic questions should include: What happens if we have another peak? And what happens if this peak leads to a large number of deaths, or civil unrest? Do your teams have a detailed understanding of how these scenarios would affect the business, and what steps could be undertaken in response? Businesses should be laying the groundwork now, and upskilling around strategy and business continuity to cope with more global volatility.
About Gareth Hawkey, CEO, RedPanda Group
Hawkey has 25 years of experience in the IT industry and holds an MBA from the University of Cape Town. He has a passion for business and began his first business while still at school. Having gained experience as an IT technician, service delivery manager and team lead, he joined the Lewis Group as a project manager in 2001. He soon progressed within the organisation, eventually taking on the role of GM and becoming a member of the executive committee before leaving to co-found redPanda Software in 2009.
Hawkey brings strategic business acumen to the redPanda Software team as group CEO. His detailed understanding of and ability to identify process efficiencies allows him to guide business and software development to achieve the best results.
With a love for the magic that happens when technology and business meet, Hawkey’s drive as redPanda Software’s group CEO is to make software development and support easy and predictable for enterprise businesses, and change the landscape of custom software development for the global retail industry.