It is a Saturday afternoon and like many other shopping malls, this Johannesburg center is thronged with people running errands and lugging shopping bags. Escalators and elevators are full. At the tills bored tellers ring up purchases as snaking queues of customers wait their turn, while others push packed trollies through chaotic aisles.
One would be forgiven for mistaking this scene for the Christmas rush, except that this is a weekend in mid-January. The number of shopping malls mushrooming around the country and the expansion of shopping centers cannot keep up with South Africa’s insatiable consumer culture. Shopping has gone from being a fun to an arduous and time-consuming task. It is no surprise then, that 2013 saw the largest increase in online shopping. This trend is bound to continue in 2014.
“It’s true that e-commerce in South Africa is booming and it’s incredibly exciting to be part of this adventure, which is partly what drove me to relocate from Germany: the opportunity to be part of this evolution,” says Kalahari.com’s new CEO, Caren Genthner-Kappesz, who relocated to Cape Town last year to head up the online retailer.
“There have been a number of new entrants to the market in the last few years, which is fantastic because the more players there are, the more innovation there will be, and the more reasons people will have to enjoy the benefits of shopping online.”
It is hard to believe that before 1999, the word Kalahari meant the desert located in the west of Southern Africa. Today, the word lends itself to a pioneer in South African online retail. Last year, the Online Retail Brands Report ranked Kalahari.com as South Africa’s leading online retail brand, ahead of Amazon. That global online giant has aggressively dominated the online retail market in the United States. It is currently establishing its global footprint with localized branches in Europe and South Africa. Kalahari’s timeous delivery and the ease with which online shoppers can order anything from appliances to beauty products, has placed the brand in a strong position, according to Acentric Marketing Research, the agency that compiled the report.
“Kalahari.com has managed to maintain our lead as South Africa’s number one online store, and we believe that the key to doing this is to always keep your customer at the core of your business. We are extremely sensitive to our customer base and utilize various means to maintain open dialogue with them and actively action necessary innovation to improve the kalahari.com experience.”
With nine years of experience as general manager at shopping.com and as a director and general manager for eBay Express, both in Germany, Genthner-Kappesz fine-tuned the customer experience. She has also worked as a chief operations officer at brands4friends, an eBay subsidiary and market leader in flash sales in Germany. Genthner-Kappesz, who holds a PhD in Mathematics, maintains that the human element is what drives Kalahari.com’s success.
“It’s also essential to have the right team, and I’m very proud to say that I believe I am supported by some of the best and brightest available.”
Spurred on by the growing online shopping environment in South Africa, fashion vendor Style36.co.za and online furniture retailer 5rooms.com launched ‘Cyber Monday’ this December, as the festive season shopping frenzy began. The initiative was based on ‘Black Friday’, the day after American Thanksgiving in the United States, when items are marked down to a fraction of their price. With the tagline ‘One Day. One Sale. One Massive Discount’, the South African version was an exclusively online sale that offered discounts of up to 80%.
The inaugural ‘Cyber Monday’ sale was a bold move by the two smaller retailers that became an effective advertising vehicle as more South Africans turn to online shopping. The furniture retailer 5rooms.com had their biggest sale day since the site was launched in 2012, while fashion retailer Style36.co.za saw a record of 100,000 visitors in 24 hours and became one of the most-visited websites in the country on the day.
Despite the boom in online shopping, retailers still face stiff competition from shops and have to be a step ahead.
“At the end of the day retail is retail, and pricing is a key element of that. Obviously online retailers need to plan and negotiate very carefully in order to offer value,” she says.
“We are very big on malls and we like to taste and touch and see and feel. The more you move down in the pyramid the more tactile they are with objects. They’re looking at the stitching on the shoe, they’re feeling the fabric for how thick it is. They’re testing the stitching, they’re yanking and pulling and you can’t do that online. I don’t think that the trust is there yet for online shopping, and that’s understandable because we don’t even trust the stores we’re going into, we’re still inspecting everything very closely,” says Genevieve van Vuuren at the Consumer Insight Agency
The Cape Town-based consumer trends analyst also recalls the challenges faced by a Kenyan client who established an online shoe shop. While the website had a fair share of visits, customers preferred to try on the shoes before buying them. This made the website more of an advertiser than a vendor.
“I think as a culture we’re getting there, especially with electronics and stationery and stuff that you don’t have to try on like clothing,” says van Vuuren.
Building trust and a desire to purchase are key to building an online presence. In aspirational cultures like South Africa, products that consumers can’t purchase in their home country are most popular, but this has its drawbacks.
Kalahari.com has launched a cellphone application that could prevent customers from ever wanting to leave their couches. The Kalahari.com Scan and Shop app allows customers to find the best deals by scanning the barcode of a book, DVD, CD or gadget they’re eyeing out in a shop. The app compares the shop’s price to that of the online retailer’s price. Following in the footsteps of Amazon, Kalahari also offers a mobile shopping app as well as its own e-book reader.
“We believe that mobile internet is really the future in South Africa and we aim to be at the forefront of this. A recent survey of our customer base indicated that over 95% of smartphone users either already use shopping apps or would consider doing so. The development of a proprietary app allows us to deliver a much more sophisticated user experience to the user and also opens up the native technologies of the device to us.”
Since joining Kalahari.com in March last year, Genthner-Kappesz has tried to harness the popularity of mobile internet in South Africa.
Smaller retailers have fewer resources to throw at advertising and consumer innovations rely heavily on word of mouth. My Sister’s Closet is a popular women’s fashion boutique in Johannesburg, owned by sisters Sharna and Louise Darko. The shop carved a niche for itself by offering London’s latest trends to Johannesburg’s fashionistas. Last year, the Darko’s felt that the only way to expand the shop was through cyberspace.
“Going online was a natural progression for us as we were avid online shoppers back home in the UK. That coupled with the emerging global trend of online shopping, we knew South Africa would soon be jumping on the bandwagon. We were already getting requests from our customers to courier items to them if they couldn’t get to the store,” says Sharna Darko.
In February 2013, the sisters launched their e-commerce website. While they entered a market that was already dominated by online clothing fashion stores, such as Zando.com as well as retail giants Mr Price, it was well received. After observing a noticeable dip in their boutique’s foot traffic, they decided to trade solely online from August of that year.
“I think the size of our business works in our favor as we’re able to add that personal touch to our customer service. We also offer exclusivity, as we’re not shifting thousands of units of the same item,” says Sharna Darko.
Many e-commerce websites are reaping the benefits of engaging online with their clientele. My Sister’s Closet actively uses social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with their customers. The online fashion retailer also sponsors the wardrobes of popular television presenters. So, if a potential customer liked the kente cloth pencil skirt that they saw on the box, they can tweet the boutique. In minutes they’ll know about the availability of their size and will be directed to the online website – all from the comfort of their lounge. If the skirt is not the right fit, it can be easily returned without the hassle of an in-store exchange or the unforgiving harsh light of a fitting room.
Online retailers still need to build unfaltering consumer trust, as ultimately this will encourage customers to shop from the comfort of their homes rather than the inconvenience of bustling shopping malls. This means no pushing or shoving, no long queues when you have so many other things to do. One thing online retailers are getting right is that the customer’s time is limited.
How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap
As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.
On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.
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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”
So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.
If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.
The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.
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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.
While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.
As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.
“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.
The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.
This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.
“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”
The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership
The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.
The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.
In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”
Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.
“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.
So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine
Gastronomic tourism based on African food could easily increase and create new value chains that unlock billions in untapped wealth for the continent, but what is stopping us?
Food and tourism are an integral part of most economies, globally. Food is undeniably a core part of all cultures and an increasingly important attraction for tourists. To satisfy their wanderlust, contemporary tourists require an array of experiences that include elements of education, entertainment, picturesque scenery and culinary wonders. The link between food and tourism allows destinations to develop local economies; and food experiences help to brand and market them, as well as supporting the local culture and knowledge systems.
This is particularly important for rural communities, where 61% of sub-Saharan Africans live, according to the World Bank last year. These communities have often felt the brunt of urbanization, which has resulted in a shift away from rural economies. If implemented effectively, Africa could get a piece of the gastronomic tourism pie, which was worth $8.8 trillion last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
However, there is currently very little public information to pique the interest of tourists about African food. World-renowned South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu sought to remedy this with her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef.
“I think where it was very clear to me that I needed to do something was when I went to cooking school. I trained at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I thought I was actually going to get training on South African food and, somehow, I assumed we were talking indigenous food.
“I was shocked that we went through the whole year’s curriculum and we didn’t cover anything that I ate at home; we didn’t cover anything that my first cousins, who are Sotho, ate in Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province); we didn’t cover anything that would come from eSwatini, which is where my mother is from,” Mqwebu says.
By self-publishing, she has ultimately contributed to a value chain that has linked local food producers and suppliers, which includes agriculture, food production, country branding and cultural and creative industries.
“I am a member of Proudly South African, not only my business, but the book as well. Part of the reason is that the cookbook was 100% published in South Africa. So, everybody who worked on the cookbook, and printing, was all in South Africa, which is something quite rare these days because authors have their books published abroad.”
The Proudly South African campaign is a South African ‘buy local’ initiative that sells her cookbook on their online platform as its production adheres to the initiative’s campaign standards. Self-publishing has allowed Mqwebu to promote her book for two years and to directly communicate with her audience in a way she thought was best, while exposing her to a vast community of local networks. She recalls her first step towards creating her own body of work.
“I was in culinary school when I wrote the recipe for amadumbe (potato of the tropics) gnocchi. We were making gnocchi and I thought, ‘so why aren’t we using amadumbe because it’s a starch?’ and when I tasted it, I thought, ‘this could definitely work’. I started doing my recipes then.
“And there was talk about, ‘we don’t have desserts as Africans’. I did some research and found we ate berries, we were never big on sugar to begin with. That’s why I took the same isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin that my grandmother used to make and that became my dessert. “I also found that when I went to libraries looking for indigenous recipes, I couldn’t really find something that spoke to me as a chef. I found content that looked like history books. It was not appealing. It was not something, as a chef, I could proudly present to another chef from a different part of the world, so I knew I had to write my book,” Mqwebu says about the award-winning recipe book that chronicles African cuisine.
Financial and health benefits
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2018, the tourism sector “contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally and is responsible for one in five of all new jobs created in the world over the last five years. It has increased its share of leisure spending to 78.5%, meaning 21.5% of spending was on business.”
To narrow in on how lucrative food can be, the World Food Travel Association estimates that visitors spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages. The figure can get as high as 35% in expensive destinations, and as low as 15% in more affordable destinations. “Confirmed food lovers also spend a bit more than the average of 25% spent by travelers in general.”
However, there is a widely-held view that the African continent is not doing enough to maximize its potential to also position itself as a gastronomic tourism destination, using its unique edge of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).
“We are not a culinary destination and we will never be while we are still offering pasta as the attraction for our tourists,” Mqwebu says.
Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems program in South Africa’s North-West University, echoes Mqwebu’s sentiments.
“I often cringe when I go to conferences and there are guests from all over the world and we serve them pasta. Why would they come from Brazil to eat pasta here? They can have pasta in Italy. Why don’t we serve them umngqusho (samp and beans)?
“We need to be creating those experiences around our culture. We are failing to capitalize on our strengths. There is a lack of drive to celebrate what we have,” says Sedupane, who also teaches modules and supervises research in indigenous health and nutrition.
Writer and historian Sibusiso Mnyanda says current innovations in African food technology are born out of necessity, rather tourism and cultural ambitions.
“Food security is becoming an issue that is leading to IKS around farming being prioritized. In Nigeria, they are innovating dry season farming, because of deforestation and soil being de-cultivated.
“So those indigenous knowledge strategies are being used in countries where it is a necessity and where there are enough advances related to the fourth industrial revolution. The traditional ways of producing food are not only much more organic, they are also crop-efficient,” Mnyanda says.
Nigeria may have inadvertently innovated a health solution related to colon cancer through its diet. Sedupane tells FORBES AFRICA an anecdote.
“There was a study where the colons of an African country that did not consume a lot of meat was compared to Europeans. The Africans had a much better profile as a result and there are people who want to buy African stool to get that kind of rich bacteria, that you get on an African plant-based diet.”
The study Sedupane is referring to was conducted in Nigeria and it states that: “Nigeria showed the average annual incidence of colorectal cancer was 27 patients per year. This shows that even if it seems that incidence rates are increasing in Nigeria, such rates are still about one-tenth of what is seen in the truly developed countries.”
In a bid to find reasons for this rarity of colon and rectal cancer, the study concluded that, among other reasons, the protective effects of Nigeria’s starch-based, vegetable-based, fruit-based, and spicy, peppery diet, and geographical location which ensures sunshine all year round, played a role in the country’s colon health.
Interestingly, it seems the potential value of African food could not only be based on what goes in but what also comes out as healthy faecal matter is big business globally. In 2015, The Washington Post published that one could potentially earn $13,000 a year selling their poop.
The American-based company OpenBiome has been processing and shipping frozen stool to patients who are very sick with infections of a bacteria called C.difficile. It causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, leaving some sufferers house-bound. “Antibiotics often help, but sometimes, the bacteria rears back as soon as treatment stops. By introducing healthy faecal matter into the gut of a patient (by way of endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules), doctors can abolish C. difficile for good… And yes, they pay for healthy poop: $40 a sample, with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week. That’s $250 for a week of donations, or $13,000 a year,” the publication stated.
Sedupane is of the view that a diet which includes indigenous foods could vastly improve one’s quality of life.
He says small changes could be made, such as including more of indigenous greens, namely sorghum and millet, to breakfast. The grains are gluten-free and produce alkaline which boosts the pH level of fluids in the body and reduces acidity.
“Moving to our legumes, we have indlubu (Bambara groundnut) which is very rich and helps in the secretion of serotonin in the brain. This so important nowadays with the increase of depression. It’s easy to digest, and is great for cholesterol and moderating blood sugar,” Sedupane says.
Mnyanda is also of the view that food is imperative to health and medicinal properties. He says traditional healers primarily use natural herbs in their practice. “These are used in pain relief and healing. Things like cannabis, camphor, African potatao and red carrots. So, food is not just used for nutritional purposes.”
Other African superfoods include, Baobab fruit, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Kenkiliba, Amaranth, Moringa and pumpkin leaves.
Cultural and historical benefits
Gastronomic tourism also includes the promotion of heritage sites that are known to revolve around dishes that are of historic importance. They enhance the travel experience, they encourage the acquisition of knowledge and a cultural exchange.
There is a unanimous view that vast amounts of knowledge have been lost to history and there is a huge knowledge gap in African societies as a result of colonization and urbanization.
“Part of the colonial agenda was to make sure food security did not belong to indigenous groups. Therefore, archiving of these knowledge systems was not a priority. Especially during industrialization, where people moved from their villages to the city you found that the knowledge got left behind,” Mnyanda says.
He offers a contemporary example of how modernization continues to push African practices to the fringes: “To this day, abathwa (the San people) hunt their meat, but you find that because of changing agricultural practices and land reform on the Kruger National Park, they are being forced to move into the cities and industrial areas, therefore they are no longer able to practice their culture of hunting. As a result, their diet is changing.” Sedupane shares the view that the fundamentals of farming and astrology have also been exiled from public knowledge.
“The fundamentals of IKS were based on the understanding of the laws of nature – how and when things were done. Harvest cycles were linked with understanding astrology. They would not harvest until certain stars were visible in the sky. There was a dependence on nature.
“With industrialization, rather than working with nature, humans are seen as being above, as controlling, as directing it. The natural cycle is often tempered with rather than trying to work with it.”
Not all is lost however. There are historical practices that have stood the test of time and continue to be a part the few foods that are internationally associated with South Africa. Mqwebu says that, “historically, we ate more plants than meat because our ancestors had to hunt and the game back then was not tame. So, there were no guarantees that you would return with meat. And that’s where things like umqwayiba (biltong) come from. They had to preserve the meat, because wasting was not part of the culture”.
According to a 2015 exploratory research project conducted under the guidance of research institute Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society director Professor Melville Saayman, biltong contributes more than R2.5 billion ($163 million) to the South African economy.
Perhaps, like the faecal transporting company, Africa will soon realize the ‘wasted’ opportunity and that there is loads of money to be made in gastronomic tourism for all its inhabitants, whether they are rural or urban, technological or indigenous.
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