Retail: counting the losses and learning the lessons of COVID-19

15 April 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202018793

Business Tech
Commerce & Trade
Education & Training
ICT In Industry
SMME Development & Support
Retail: counting the losses and learning the lessons of COVID-19

THANKS to the coronavirus pandemic, the retail sector is facing unprecedented challenges, as is every other industry to a greater or lesser degree. However, ScanZone, a technology supplier to the industry, believes that the current slowdown may be a window of opportunity for retailers reconsider their journey into e-commerce platforms.

The 100% Level One female-owned ICT company which provides point of sale and auto identification solutions to the retail sector and other industries. Regional Sales Manager Aslam Peerbacus said that as a supplier to the retail sector, the company is feeling the pinch of the COVID-19-induced slowdown.

With the company not being able to carry out business as usual, this has inevitably translated into a significant decrease in revenue, while operational and overhead expenditure still remain. Staff remuneration is also affected, while the company is able to pay base wages in full, the staff cannot earn commission due to the company’s inability to deliver goods and invoice on sales.

Peerbacus said the company had been granted permission to operate as an essential service provider during the lockdown period to supply and service a portion of its clientele that remain operational within the retail, medical and manufacturing sectors. But sales enquiries have slowed to a snail’s pace, while repair revenue has decreased in parallel.

“Business costs have also increased based on staff requiring additional facilities such as internet and telephone connectivity from home while we continue to pay for the subscriptions of the same services at the office,” he said.

“Given that our OEM partners are Europe, United States and Asia-based and supply of products is dependent on imports, the cost of sales have increased, largely due to the fluctuation of the rand against the dollar, in parallel with the recent downgrading of South Africa’s sovereign credit rating by rating agencies Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch.”

Peerbacus said ScanZone had responded to these challenges with a several of interventions. Due to the lockdown restrictions, staff were instructed to work from home. The company has also taken the downtime as an opportunity to upskill its staff via remote learning on products and solutions.

“Through our online ordering portal and Live Chat facility, we still remain active in terms of providing sales support remotely, as well as taking orders that will fall into our backorder sales category, for delivery, soon after the lockdown,” he said.

“We are in the process of upgrading our secondary website that focuses on mobility solutions. The slowdown in business has in fact provided us with a window of opportunity to action this initiative. The benefits of this are beyond the lockdown period; this puts us in good stead to improve our offering and customer service going forward.”

Peerbacus believes that the retailing sector itself can also take advantage of the business slowdown to innovate. “Bigger retailers have embraced e-commerce technology sets to a certain level. It is an opportunity to further digitise their platforms to provide a seamless experience when it comes to customer sales and support via digital platforms.

“For the smaller retailers, it is a time to retrospectively look at their journey into e-commerce platforms while still maintaining a brick and mortar store. Due to the constraints on the local economy, retailers should look at loyalty programmes and the best way to utilise them in order to assist consumers with some sort of financial relief. On essential food items, retailers should also look at ways they can lower the cost of goods to the consumer where possible, while still maintaining healthy profit margins in order to keep their current workforce employed.”

Peerbacus said innovation and technology advancement is key to the future. “In preparation for the inevitable and based on current experience with regards to economic slowdown and the global crisis, businesses should have a solid strategy or contingency plan to implement going forward.”

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