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Start-ups boost Foschini's e-commerce drive

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Brent Curry, CIO of The Foschini Group.
Brent Curry, CIO of The Foschini Group.

The Foschini Group (TGF), a South African fashion lifestyle retailer, has partnered with local tech start-ups to boost its e-commerce platform.

TFG comprises 22 retail brands - @home, @homelivingpace, American Swiss, Charles & Keith, Colette, Donna, Duesouth, Exact, Fabiani, The FIX, Foschini, G-star Raw, hi, Markham, Mat & May, Next, Phase Eight, SODA Bloc, sportscene, Sterns, Totalsports and Whistles.

The retail chain has partnered with several tech start-ups, including WumDrop, which enabled it to launch the Deliver 2 Me service, and Pargo, which allows TFG online shoppers to collect their parcels at a point most convenient for them.

"TFG partnered with WiGroup when they were two or three guys, but today they are a medium-sized business having attracted venture capital from the likes of Investec," says Brent Curry, TFG CIO. "We still use them as a payment backend gateway for solutions like our e-gift cards. We are also working with tech start-up Pargo on e-commerce delivery solutions for all South Africans."

He points out there are no incentives per se that TFG gives tech start-ups. Nonetheless, the benefit of working with a large corporate is tangible in the sense that having a blue chip company utilise a start-up's product is a good pedigree to have on its customer list and opens doors for new business, Curry notes.

"We know that exceptional tech talent usually prefers working in the edgier start-up space, rather than at a big corporate where their freedom and creativity is more likely to be stifled. So working with start-ups enables us to access that very scarce talent."

According to Curry, start-ups offer solutions that are attractive in terms of pricing, while the rate at which a start-up can change or add new functionality is much quicker when compared to larger organisations where changes take a lot longer to be implemented.

"We also explore opportunities with start-ups in the tech space because they have innovative ideas and are fired-up by their product or service. Often they are not market-ready, but their entrepreneurial spirit means they are open to intellectual property input from TFG to transform their concept into a real world solution."

Curry says TGF is putting a lot of effort into its e-commerce site and constantly looking at tech solutions, including mobile wallets, where clients can go in store and pay with their phone using Discovery Miles or SnapScan.

All the backend was developed with WiGroup, which first partnered with TFG as a start-up.

Regarding the risks of working with the start-ups, Curry says: "As a big corporate, we have a lot of governance and have to fill out all the right forms, but start-ups don't want to work this way.

"So we drop some of these requirements to ensure we get products out quicker as solutions. This means working with start-ups is always a calculated risk, but we mitigate the risk by getting very involved in the process."

He adds TGF also works with large companies that are connected through entrepreneur programmes, including Deloitte Digital, IBM and Microsoft.

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