UCS Solutions’ annual Beyond Retail 2013 conference gave retail executives a unique preview of their industry’s future. The event was attended by more than 140 delegates from leading retailers including: Shoprite; Massmart; Dis-Chem; Pick ‘n Pay; Woolworths and Foschini.
Multichannel shopping is a growing trend worldwide, sparked by increased internet adoption and consumer demand for increased choice and convenience. Providing a consistent customer experience across multiple channels poses a significant challenge for retailers.

A report back by Jessica Knight – senior executive, UCS Solutions – on a blind survey conducted with over forty South African and international online retailers, proved to be a highlight of the conference.

“The good news is that South African retailers did better than expected when compared with their international peers on certain dimensions,” says Knight.

“Fulfilment, customer support and payment options, in particular, scored high marks. However, much work still needs to be done to improve to support product exploration and basket building, particularly amongst the traditional retailers who are going on-line.”

As part of her presentation, Knight provided retailers with five key steps to guide their transition into the multichannel world.

The importance of a multichannel approach was also underlined during a facilitated panel discussion on the payment revolution. UCS Solutions’ experts Jane Canny and Stasha Battye were joined by Visa’s Dougie Henderson, who shared insights into payment innovation in retail, and WIZZIT’s Brian Richardson – who looked at mobile payments with a special focus on Africa.

Big data and its potential for helping retailers deliver a better service to customers came under the microscope of Paul Alexander, CEO of UCS Solutions JV partner – Beyond Analysis. He argued that by making it easier for consumers to buy, and increasing their confidence in the process, big data can help improve sales and thus drive economic growth.

The presentation of a recent research study on the emerging black middle class, by Professor John Simpson of UCT’s Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing, proved to be another highpoint of the conference.

Entitled “Four million and rising”, the research examined the impact of this expanding group on South Africa’s economic growth. Professor Simpson concluded that retailers need to focus on developing strategies for marketing and distributing products to this complex but increasingly important market segment.

Delegate feedback was extremely positive, with one attendee noting, “This is one of the best and most relevant events I have attended this far.”