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Unlocking Micro and Small retailers through Digital Technology

Unlocking Micro and Small retailers through Digital Technology

You are not new to female trailblazers disrupting the digital economy across Africa. Can you tell us about your brand new initiative Redshift set to make waves in South Africa and help with the impact of COVID-19?

Redshift is essentially a website building platform that allows individuals and businesses to build affordable websites with no previous tech background, it’s built with the African market in mind and to allow African SMMEs to get affordable online accessibility and be able to make transactions online. When South Africa went into lockdown, a lot of MSMEs were forced to stop trading during the phase and micro and small retailers were affected the most by this, as the retail businesses account of the majority of the MSME industry in South Africa. So, we wanted to create a solution to introduce micro and small retailers to online trading, thus allowing them to continue trading during the lockdown. I, myself live in a township and I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t get my groceries online, which meant that I had to risk my health and go to the stores in person. Our current online shopping and delivery methods in South Africa are discriminating people based on their geographical location and so we decided to come up with a solution. It’s so easy to sit on the sidelines and critique what the retailers are doing, we knew that if we wanted to solve this problem, we needed to come up with the solution.

How did this idea come about?

So this idea was birthed on Tuesday, 31 March 2020 at about 3pm one of my business partners John gave me a call after he had heard me complain about how I couldn’t get groceries delivered to me; let alone at least order them online and have them ready to collect; and he had a solution. He suggested that we develop a product that would allow micro and small retailers to register to an online platform and in that way let customers know that they are open for business during the lockdown and were complying with the health regulations of social distancing. It also pained me to see how the stores were crowded on that Monday and Tuesday after the elderly had collected their monthly pensions with two losing their lives; living with an elderly parent, I knew this was not acceptable. The Redshift platform is not just a shopping platform, it’s a way to ensure that our people in the townships are adhering to social distancing and spending less time in the stores and thus helping to flatten the curve. Hence, we called the third partner who is also a developer and he worked on this in 48 hours and on the 2nd of April, we had a product. It literally happened overnight.

How does it work? Can informal traders selling essential goods get listed on the Redshift platform?

Our platform is very user friendly and easy to get onto. The retailers can access the site on either a mobile phone or a computer and follow the simple instructions to register their store. Once they have completed that process; they will get an email from Redshift confirming their registration and then customers will be able to view their services on the platform and shop from them. We are building in a function on the platform (which will probably be up by the time this article goes up) that will enable informal traders to register their informal stores by taking them to a government link which will then enable them to apply for a trading license. This is also a way that we are trying to assist the government to formalise the retail sector as about 70% of the retailer traders in SA are informal. We’re also hoping that once the retailers have had a taste of online presence then more will opt for dedicated online stores, which means that shopping will be easier for a lot of people.

Finmark Trust has come on board as a partner as well as some other institutions- why do they believe your organisation is the right team to carry this project on- considering the limited time constraints to make an impact under South Africa’s current lockdown?

Our team is diverse, from an engineer turned entrepreneur; who runs a successful digital marketing business; to a mathematician turned entrepreneur, who runs a business in impact investing to a web developer. We all bring a different skill set and experience. We are no experts in this field, but our intentions are good. Our ability to kick this off the ground in 48 hours speaks to our work ethic and business acumen. Finmark Trust is a huge propeller in supporting African economies and when they heard about our platform, they wanted to see if there is any way that they could assist. Africa is going to get through this pandemic through collaboration between civil society, small businesses, large corporates and government.

What is the process that businesses follow to list on the  Redshift platform and more importantly how do consumers primarily in the township receive products listed on the Redshift platform?

Our platform is new, and we are currently on a drive to get retailers to register on our site. Stores can register on our site by clicking on https://redshift.site/local-shopping/ and then filling out a form to register a store. Customers can also access the platform on the same link, and they would then pick a store based on their location. it’s a simple platform that is easily accessible on your mobile phone, customers can get onto the platform, since the platform is location enabled, it will pick up your location and will pull up a list of stores in their area. The customer would select the store they want, it would take them to a form, where they fill in their details; like their name, car details (if they are driving) and contact details and they would then populate text box with their grocery list items. Once they have agreed to the T&C’s they would hit the “submit” button and it their order would be sent to the store. They will then get a confirmation message on the site with their reference number. The store would then contact the customer once their shopping is ready for collection and they could either drive and park in the designated park and collect area or walk to their nearest store to collect. This would not only minimise the amount of time people spend in queues at the stores but would also ensure that consumers start supporting their local micro and small retailers.

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Mpho Sekwele

Mpho Sekwele

Mpho Sekwele, a Dartmouth College (USA) Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders Initiative, has over ten years of corporate work experience in the retail industry for Blue Chip retail companies in Africa. Mpho is an alumnus of the University of Cape Town, University of Witwatersrand and holds an Executive MBA from IEDC Bled School of Management (Slovenia). Mpho is passionate about youth and women empowerment; through sintuonline.com an eCommerce platform where contemporary African Heritage Clothing and Accessories made by young women in Africa, are sold globally; as well as BantuHikers a wellness, networking and mentorship platform for first generation students.
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