One of the county's leading ISPs, MWeb, has opened its first retail outlet in the new R650-million Maponya Mall – South Africa's biggest shopping centre which was officially opened by former president Nelson Mandela in Klipspruit, Soweto yesterday.
The company says that with Internet access becoming an increasingly necessary commodity for South Africans, the new store reflects the growing need for consumers to interact face-to-face with their service providers.
Natalie Thayer, GM of MWeb Home, says that the establishment of the store is an extension of the company’s existing ability to reach the consumer and small business owner.
"It complements our existing retail model where we resell via department stores and allows us to increase our footprint and our reach," Thayer says. "The Soweto store is the first to open, and it will be closely followed by a second store at Cresta Shopping Centre in November."
Thayer believes the Soweto market is vastly under-serviced when it comes to technology offerings and that there is huge potential for growth in this area.
"We already have more than 100 Soweto residents on our WiMax trial and the interest and demand for fast Internet access has been tremendous," says Thayer. "The new MWeb store will offer easy access for users to experience technologies in action, which we believe will drive further interest."
Thayer says that many consumers and small business owners prefer to purchase from a person rather than over the phone and, with the expanding choices available when it comes to Internet access, this face-to-face interaction will become vitally important.
"Furthermore, as technologies converge, the store will give us a showcase for MWeb’s data, voice and video solutions that can be experienced and purchased there and then. It also gives us control over our brand in the retail space, which is important in the current competitive environment."
Thayer says the store will be highly interactive and tactile. Visitors will be able to experience technologies in action and compare, for instance, ADSL, iBurst and 3G/ HSDPA Internet connections and get an understanding of what they are, how they work, the hardware required and what the benefits are.
Partnerships with a range of local and international suppliers will also see consumers being able to test out these products in a home-style environment, as well as being the first to try out some new international products not yet widely available in South Africa.
There will also be a section for small business owners, where visitors can view and try out demos of business products such as bulk Internet communication tools and template-based websites ideal for smaller businesses. They will also be able to request a consultation with an MWeb specialist.
"Since MWeb was established 10 years ago, the Internet has changed radically," says Thayer. "There was initially very limited choice in terms of Internet access – if you were a home user, you got dial-up, and if you were a business, you got a dial-up or a leased line.
"With the recent proliferation of options – narrowband or broadband; fixed, wireless or mobile Internet; choices in line speeds and data caps, and a host of added value products to understand – consumers and small businesses sometimes struggle to make a decision on what to choose," she says. "As an objective reseller of all the different options, MWeb is perfectly positioned to assist users making a decision on which technology is best suited to them."