Emerging tech levels playing field in South African retail

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger
Johannesburg, 22 Jan 2024
Niel Coetzee, head of engineering at retail technology solutions provider redPanda Software.
Niel Coetzee, head of engineering at retail technology solutions provider redPanda Software.

Equal access to emerging technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), has heightened competition in South Africa’s retail sector.

This is according to Niel Coetzee, head of engineering at the multinational retail solutions provider redPanda Software, who says the retail sector is a quick adopter of technology. Irrespective of size, retailers can integrate digital solutions and leverage data analysis to build 'the store of the future.'

"The store of the future is one that is automated, connected, and operated by digital resources such as self-checkout tills, to deliver an omnichannel customer experience," says Coetzee.

“Technological advancement has brought international shopping trends that were limited to higher-income countries/stores to our shores and made them more affordable to smaller retailers and more penetrative in our lower-income market."

He adds that the availability of out-of-the-box AI tools means smaller retailers can have actionable insights previously available only to those with enterprise-level BI teams.

“Smaller retailers now have most, if not all, of the capabilities that the more traditional larger retailers used to have. This is by leveraging and integrating more modern solutions and utilising cloud components that require little setup,” says Coetzee.

“In some cases, smaller retailers actually have the advantage because they are traditionally not so invested in legacy solutions and are more open to change.”

The consumer

Coetzee says emerging technology is key to the customer experience.

Retailers are competing to achieve more personalisation through technology, he says,  "either by adding more solutions to tailor your shopping experience or by automating processes to enable your staff to focus more on customer satisfaction.”

There have been multiple advancements recently that improve the ergonomics of shopping and reduce the friction that customers experience in-store, he says.

“For instance, the adoption of RFID in stores, where stock is tracked from the manufacturer all the way to the client – this reduces risk, improves visibility, and the whole checkout experience."

redPanda Software believes that despite issues like unreliable connectivity in rural areas, affordability, and load-shedding, emerging technology represents a clear opportunity for retailers in mostly untapped rural market segments.

Looking ahead, Coetzee says retailers will have more access to GenAI, and, by extension, will have faster and more accessible insights. Efficiency will continue to be critical, and retailers will need to be more proacrive by having the right stock at the right time.

“Customers will also become more used to personalised, low-friction shopping experiences… if the retailer does not offer that, customers will move,” he concludes.