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Technology is revolutionising the way we do things, and one sector that is increasingly investing in new technologies is retail. According to the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC), shopping centres have openly embraced the technological boom, with many planning for new projects to make use of the advances available to retailers and shoppers.

dion changMenlyn Park in Pretoria, for example, is planning dedicated charging stations for electric and hybrid vehicles, license-plate recognition and is also developing an analytical parking app for mobile devices that will allow users to locate their vehicles. The centre has installed smart-metering systems to ensure accurate and on time billings for tenants.

Olive Ndebele, General Manager for Menlyn Park, says that the mall’s tenants are also embracing new technologies. “Most of our tenants offer online shopping platforms for customers and this motivates the others to follow suit. Energy efficiency is also important, so we have improved our technology with regards to air-conditioning, lifts and escalators. Currently we are in the process of partnering up with Google for further technological advancements.”

Amanda Dilima, Retail Leasing Consultant for the V & A Waterfont, says that her mall is also investing in technology.
“We have recently embarked on an exciting project that involves voice guided location screens in the centre that are supplemented by a mobile app. This voice guides the customer to where they wish to go in the mall in real time. The app also provides interesting information to the user about their current location as they navigate to their destination.”

Other examples include Johannesburg’s Bedford Centre, which has launched the city’s first virtual reality arcade, and retailers Pick n’ Pay, Woolworths, The Foschini Group (TFG) and the Mr Price Group have also jumped on the technological bandwagon, offering online-shopping platforms for consumers.

Trend analysts Dion Chang and Sue Morris from Flux Trends agree that technology is paving the way to a retail future that we haven’t even begun to imagine yet. According to Chang, 2017 is the year of the drone, among other things. He believes that if retailers and brands don’t find themselves among the ones that have evolved and adapted to new technology and eCommerce, they may find themselves on the back foot.

“When it comes to technology, drones are definitely as tech as they come. This year, drone technology is going flat-out and will be rolled out more intensively. In Rwanda for example, blood samples are being delivered to hospitals via drone technology,” he says.

Morris adds that the use of drones is close to becoming a reality in South Africa. “Drones are making deliveries already. And we don’t have to look very far – we have a fantastic drone factory here in Pretoria.”

Analysts predict an omni-channel future for retailers: an environment in which e-commerce, mobile and IoT devices collaborate seamlessly to measure and analyse customer traffic, support customer engagement and personalised communications and targeted offerings. Recent research by Morar Consulting in the U.S. has found that shoppers increasingly expect a seamless, digitally-enhanced retail experience, with growing numbers seeking integrated virtual and bricks and mortar shopping such as loyalty programme information automatically tied to their credit cards, and mobile payments becoming the norm.

The potential for digital retail is huge, but at the same time, this new multi-channel/omni-channel digital environment increases the risks for retailers and customers alike, says Morag Saunders, Major Account Manager at Fortinet. “Mobile platforms are the latest target for malware and other security threats, yet to meet expectations of a digitally-enabled environment, retailers need to let unknown devices onto their networks. In an unsecured digital environment, retailers risk hacking attacks and malware impacting their systems, while customers are at risk of identity theft and fraud. The retailer also faces the risk of reputational damage and loss of digital trust in the event of a breach that puts customer information in the wrong hands,” she says.

“With Wi-Fi at the heart of this new digital environment, retailers must ensure that their WLAN solution is absolutely secure and serves to protect against everything from wireless protocol and RF attacks to malware and viruses. In addition, the entire digital environment must be capable of being integrated and managed seamlessly, supporting all forms of security – from endpoint security to compliant payments data traffic.”

Image: Dion Chang.jpg

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