Choosing the right retail technology partner 

by Gareth Hawkey. Retailers need to embrace the opportunity that lies in technology and shift to intelligent retail software and platforms that enable retailers to drive innovation.

by Gareth Hawkey. Despite the fact that South African business and consumer confidence is low, local retailers are faced with a significant opportunity to drive sales and become more operationally streamlined and efficient. This opportunity lies in technology and shifting to intelligent retail software and platforms that enable retailers to embrace digital offerings and drive innovation.

When looking abroad to developed markets such as the UK and US, many retailers are taking a bold approach to technology and digital transformation, harnessing concepts such as the endless aisle and self-checkout. In South Africa, there can be no doubt that retailers should take the same kind of pioneering approach to technology, although the consumer pain points (and therefore solutions) will be different in our market. Taking bold steps now will undoubtedly reap huge financial and operational benefits in both the short and long term.

Yet as the past few years have shown, many leaders within retail are somewhat daunted by the fastmoving world of enterprise technology and software. The rate of change and disruption is intimidating for decisionmakers who are trying to focus on their core business (retail growth); and in times of economic hardship, going out on the front foot with technology can seem non-intuitive at best – and foolish at worst.

Remaining static is the biggest risk

Today, it is critical for retail decisionmakers to take a step back, and consider one fundamental truth about business sustainability and success (and this arguably applies to every industry, but especially in retail): when it comes to technology in today’s digital-first era, doing nothing is equivalent to sliding backwards.

Yet how do busy leaders approach the immense challenge of technology implementation and software rollouts within one’s retail environment – and particularly within a highly specialised environment such as furniture, or credit?

To ensure success in the long term, every retail player, no matter their specialisation or vertical, has to be taking precise steps forward to implement new technology that is underpinned by agile and responsive software. And for SA’s retail decision-makers, the best way to ensure success in a highly specialised retail environment is to find an experienced and innovative software or technology partner to develop a highly tailored and sustainable strategy for the technology rollout.

So, what do you look for in such a partner?

1. Understanding of market complexities

With a recognition that every retail market has its own unique pain points and dynamics, SA retailers need to look for a technology partner that has demonstrated knowledge and significant expertise within the local retail environment. History has shown that this immersive experience within retail is absolutely imperative – as it allows your software and technology partner to create and implement a solution that is carefully tailored to your specific retail environment. Moreover, a deep and immersive understanding of the local retail context also empowers this partner to incorporate elements in the technology strategy that address important local pain points. In South Africa, for example, there is a high demand for quick and accessible in-store credit – and retail software should speak directly to this need.

2. It’s not just about the technology

Beyond the local experience and insight, the right technology partner for your journey towards innovation should ideally be an entity that has many years of experience in building and customising packaged solutions. To do so, this partner should be completely independent as both a technology advisor and solution provider. From this holistic vantage point, your technology specialist is then able to give you, the retailer, advice and options that are highly suited to your specific environment and phase of technology development. Indeed, more often than not, being solution agnostic enables such a partner to provide retailers with a tailored mix of technology solutions that allow the retailer in question to remain responsive and adaptive – both critical elements to succeed in today’s disruptive business ecosystem. On a very practical level, the retailer should not be contractually bound to expensive products or software that lock the business in for many years (making the retailer less able to respond to changing consumer trends and needs).

3. Agility in action

With many local retailers having to operate within a highly constrained economic context, new technology and software rollouts have to be initiated in such a way that retailers still retain close control over their retail environment – and can tailor the business rules to speak to specific in-store demands and pressures. To retain such control and oversight requires the presence of a transparent and responsive software partner that has teams which are experienced and equipped to operate in specific retail verticals. These teams can ensure rapid response times, as well as immediate support should it be required – preventing any risk of downtime or inefficiencies when it really matters.

Critically, the highly agile and adaptive abilities of such a partner also ensures the speedy release of updates or changes to the software environment, which always translates into a more responsive and seamless consumer experience on the shop floor.


Gareth Hawkey is CEO of the redPanda Group. He has 25 years of experience within the IT industry and holds an MBA from the University of Cape Town. Before joining redPanda Group he was General Manager of Lewis Group. With a love for the magic that happens when technology and business meet, Gareth’s drive as redPanda Software’s CEO is to make software development and support easy and predictable for enterprise businesses, and change the landscape of custom software development for the global retail industry.

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