Lockdown helps TFG online marketplace exceed expectations

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TFG CIO Brent Curry.
TFG CIO Brent Curry.

Local retail chain TFG (The Foschini Group) says its online marketplace has exceeded growth expectations, in the two years since inception.

The group says from April until the end of August, its e-commerce turnover increased by 29.7% compared to the same period last year.

CIO Brent Curry says the company’s ongoing investment in digital transformation was funded by capital expenditure of about R500 million over the past three years.

TFG owns over 30 retail brands that trade in fashion, value, jewellery, accessories, sporting apparel, cellular, homeware and furniture, located across SA, including Archive, Duesouth, Exact, Fabiani, Foschini, @home, Markham, Relay Jeans, Sportscene, The FIX and Totalsports.

In 2018, the retail giant launched what it called SA's first online marketplace, in efforts to help the retail chain reposition its e-commerce strategy, offering local consumers an online platform that would take on global e-commerce marketplaces such as and Walmart.

The retail chain’s marketplace offers local consumers a one-stop shopping experience across 20 of its affiliate brands, such as travel, gifting, toys, books and flowers.

“Due to TFG’s investment in e-commerce, we now have 20 of our retail brands online. Our goal was to create a digital shopping mall to meet the substantially increased and exponentially growing e-commerce demand in SA.

“This investment in digital transformation had an unexpected benefit during the COVID-19 hard lockdown, as TFG e-commerce traded throughout the period (no deliveries), with the April/May TFG online turnover seeing a growth of 88%. We believe the levels of e-commerce in SA will continue to increase exponentially over the next few years, in line with the experience of our offshore operations.”

Besides SA, TFG has a presence in Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini through various retail brands.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced SA’s brick-and-mortar retailers to embrace e-commerce, which has been touted as a lifeline for retailers after walk-in sales showed a record decline during the initial lockdown period.

According to Curry, TFG has 35% market share of online traffic locally. From 1 April to the end of August, the company had 3.2 million user visits on its site.

Other key tech initiatives that have been rolled out from TFG’s R500 million digital drive include the radio frequency identification (RFID) programme; the OneStock e-commerce tool which uses an algorithm to allocate stock from any store to meet online orders; mobile apps targeted at TFG customers and employees, including the Yoobic Operations, the TFGLearn portal, the TFG-on-the-go and the myTFGworld shopping app, which was launched in July.

About 1 850 TFG apparel brick-and-mortar stores are RFID-enabled, notes Curry. With RFID, each item in the store has a tag with an antenna and micro battery – which tracks all the stock in store, enabling a full stocktake in 15 minutes with a 98% accuracy rate.

“The implementation of RFID in-store has resulted in stock accuracy improving from below 80% to more than 97%. This has enabled TFG to use stores as hubs for fulfilling online orders − rather than having to store all e-commerce stock in warehouses.

“The myTFGworld app, which launched three months ago, has had over 45 000 downloads and 33 000 monthly active users, with 36% of myTFGworld sales coming through the app. The Sportscene app, which also includes Sportscene radio, launched in September,” adds Curry.

Yoobic is a visual merchandising system rolled out in 90% of TFG’s stores and enables the group to send store managers instructions to their phone or tablet on how to dress windows and store entrances.

MyTFGLearn allows digitalised staff training, while the TFG-on-the-go app gives its over 20 000 employees access to all human resources info.

”The apps both allow for continuous communication with TFG staff and this meant we could re-open stores safely and efficiently when flexible lockdown restrictions were introduced, by sharing COVID-19 learnings and instructions with employees by simply sharing this critical content onto staff mobile devices.”

Looking ahead, TFG has its sights on robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and augmented reality services, which are currently being trialled to improve the customer experience.

“TFG will continue to have mobile-first customer user designs across all brands and rollout more apps. TFG will also transform and modernise its technology platforms to scale and be flexible to future demand. Our goal is anywhere, anytime fulfilment of orders,” concludes Curry.

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