How conversational commerce is shaping the future of business

While 'conversational commerce' is not a new concept, the phenomenon is gaining momentum, driving innovation and customer experience in an ever-changing e-commerce landscape.

The way today’s consumers choose to communicate and interact with brands is fundamentally shifting. Gone are the days of infuriating calls, jumping through multiple hoops to get to the right department, and confusing out-of-date websites – customers now expect to be able to engage in seamless, conversational experiences with businesses, similar to how they communicate with their friends and family.

Conversational commerce is exactly that: a conversation between the business and their clients. It combines the power of messaging tools and platforms with the shopping experience, and also extends to customer service. Using platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Apple Business Chat, it allows businesses to engage the consumer where they are.

Payment functionality becomes a breeze when you consider linking your online store to a provider like SnapScan, Zapper or Master Card. It also enables automated and personalised online experiences for customers. Business leaders who don’t want to be left behind need to give some serious thought to how they can make this techy trend work for both themselves and their customers.


The social and economic implications of the lockdown have forced businesses to rethink their sales strategies in order to stay afloat and meet shifting consumer demands...

Adoption of conversational commerce

A simple example of conversational commerce is a buyer using Facebook Messenger to ask a seller a question, thereby facilitating the transaction. It also includes more sophisticated tools, like chatbots, which have been widely adopted by many websites.

Although some consumers may have been wary of conversational commerce channels at first, they now embrace – and even expect – them to be available in order to simplify their online shopping experience. From querying product specifications to looking for recommendations, customers are able to make more informed decisions that much faster.

Conversational commerce has now evolved to the point where messaging apps are integral to the selling and customer-service processes of various companies.

Burberry’s 'R Message' is an example of this. Through this messaging service, employees can text high-value customers directly, rewarding loyal customers with access to in-store appointment bookings, personalised online advice and shopping-from-home assistance. The service was designed to offer peerless service to customers by giving them the right information at the right time, all while driving sales.

In other words, conversational commerce transcends previously expected value and has the potential to drive more meaningful interactions between companies and customers, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and, ultimately, accelerating revenue conversion.

Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart has debuted a voice assistant feature to make consumers' online shopping journeys "simpler and more natural"...

The benefits of conversational commerce

The most important question for businesses to answer is: why do consumers want conversational commerce? It offers a convenient and personalised service that speaks to the customer in a language they can relate to, and enables ‘always-on’ availability.

We live in an age where people rely on their smartphones for almost everything; there is very little they can’t accomplish with the click of a button. This is true when it comes to brand interactions, too.

The rapid development of natural language processing technology and artificial intelligence systems have made it easier for conversational trade to mimic the human element, creating connections and making customers feel valued.

But why would consumers favour this model of human-like contact to traditional buying channels? It may be because the best examples of conversational commerce feel like shopping with your own personal assistant who’s ready to answer any and all of your questions – clearly a win for consumer experience.

So, how does this benefit businesses in the long-run? Some results from early adopters of this e-commerce trend show just how powerful it can be when used in the right way.

US fast-food chain Taco Bell created a purpose-driven bot called TacoBot to take customers’ orders via Slack. The service proved particularly effective in solving real-time problems and eliminating significant pain points when it came to dietary preferences and hunting down food items that the customer might have forgotten the name of.

Another example that can’t be ignored is Amazon Echo, selling over 3 million units in less than 18 months. Because it is hooked up to Amazon’s full product catalogue, it can tap into the user’s order history and intelligently carry out voice commands to buy or reorder items. Alexa, the default addressable name, can even walk you through options when ordering something for the first time. It shows just how powerful conversational commerce can be when it’s linked to delivering the best possible consumer experience.

It is this level of improved customer experience that fosters brand loyalty and can even lead to cross-selling or upselling opportunities – as is the case with the Amazon Echo. It also helps that the consumer’s online behaviour is recorded, which in turn can be used to make future suggestions and continue to add value to the customer journey down the line.

How to start using conversational commerce

With social platforms like Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp Business, it may be easier than you think to start a simple conversational sales strategy. However, if we look at Amazon Echo, we can predict where the future of conversational commerce is headed. Chatbots and voice assistants are useful to businesses, but when fully integrated with e-commerce, they can revolutionise the sales process.

So, where do you start? To create a sustainable solution in a world where technology is constantly changing may sound complex and overwhelming, but this technology is easy to integrate with your current business processes using a single business messaging API. The software involved in implementing this is user friendly; just log in and you can start reaping the benefits.

As these technologies evolve, we will see new forms of brand-to-consumer communication and interaction emerge, paving the way for more intelligent touchpoints and increased customer satisfaction. Commerce is becoming not only more conversational, but more ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into our lives, and the way we interact with brands will be forever changed as a result

What recent data breaches tell us about cybersecurity in South Africa

The past couple of months should lay to rest any doubt over whether South African organisations are under sustained attack from cybercriminals.

Over the past three months we’ve seen well-known local healthcare and financial organisations falling victim to cyberattacks and data breaches, and in some cases being forced offline.

The local data breaches coincided with high profile attacks and outages for global brands like Twitter and Garmin. And in headline-grabbing news, credit bureau Experian reported a massive breach of data that exposed the personal information of up to 24 million South Africans and nearly 800,000 businesses.

These incidents have brought to light a battle that has been waging quietly in the background.

Cybercriminals – using increasingly sophisticated techniques – are targeting South African public and private sector organisations in orchestrated attacks that could lead to devastating losses in business productivity, reputational damage and revenue.

In the Mimecast State of Email Security 2020 report, 53% of South African organisations reported increased phishing attacks and 46% reported increased incidences of impersonation fraud compared to the previous year.

The coronavirus pandemic only served to accelerate the volume of attacks: a Mimecast Threat Intel report found a 75% increase in impersonation fraud in South Africa over the first 100 days of the pandemic.

As South African organisations implement systems and policies to ensure compliance to the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), which comes into force in July 2021, we are likely to hear about more data breaches.

This is in part because of the legislative requirement to inform customers and regulators of any breach as soon as reasonably possible. The regulator appears to have since indicated that 72 hours is a reasonable period.

Advocate Pansy Tlakula, who heads up the Information Regulator which is tasked with monitoring compliance to the POPI Act, said recently that the spike in data exposure incidents highlights the importance of understanding cybercrime and the sophisticated fraud impersonation techniques used to access company and personal data.

What can we learn from these latest data breaches? Here are the big takeaways for business and security leaders:

No organisation is immune from a data breach

Big or small, any organisation can fall victim to a data breach. As the Experian breach has showed, it’s not always computer whizzes that ‘hack’ company data.

A clever fraudster posing as a trusted partner or supplier can just as easily get away with valuable internal data that can be used in cyberattacks.

Breaches are also more common than most people realise: with POPIA now in effect, organisations are duty-bound to disclose breaches. We can expect to see many more reports of data breaches over the coming months.

Don’t assume data is harmless

When the data breach at Experian was first revealed to the public, the company was quick to point out that the data – which consisted of ID numbers, phone numbers, physical and email addresses – was harmless.

However, if savvy cybercrooks gain access to this information, they can use the personal details of impacted consumers and supplement it with readily available information from social media.

They can then use this to launch sophisticated social engineering attacks that make it very difficult for consumers to distinguish whether they are dealing with an authorised representative or a fraudster.

It’s now come to light that the Experian data is in fact on the internet. This means that criminals can potentially use this information to launch targeted cyberattacks aimed at the individuals whose personal information was breached.

Luckily banks pre-empted this possibility. They’ve been communicating with customers to take extra care with their banking profiles and to be on the lookout for suspicious communication over the coming weeks, should their data be used in attempts to access bank accounts.

Develop a layered security strategy

While nearly all (94%) cyberattacks leverage email, organisations can’t afford to only focus on their email perimeter.

The threat landscape has shifted to the point where organisations need to approach security with three zones in mind:

  1. At the email perimeter – where security controls can detect and block malicious emails;
  2. Inside the organisation – which includes protecting against internal threats and awareness training; and
  3. Beyond the perimeter – where cybercriminals are finding great success with brand impersonation that can trick unsuspecting customers and partners into offering up important information or into making payments to fraudulent bank accounts.

Organisations should deploy brand exploit protection to ensure their domains are not being subverted by cybercriminals and to enable them to take swift action should any brand exploitation be detected.

In the Experian example, brand protection is a consideration in two situations.

Firstly, it was likely a missing security component for the customer or supplier that the fraudster impersonated to trick Experian into handing over the data.

Secondly, banks and other trusted brands would be smart to have brand exploit protection in place, to ensure criminals don’t impersonate them and target their customers with sophisticated attacks.

Focus on empowering your people

Even with the best cyber defences, organisations remain susceptible to data breaches if they don’t have a strong human firewall. Studies suggest human error plays a role in 90% of all data breaches.

Mimecast found that users who had been exposed to cyber awareness training were over 5 times less likely to be taken in by certain types of fraud.

One of the most effective cybersecurity strategies is to conduct regular, memorable and on-going awareness training to ensure employees can identify and avoid risky online behaviour.

In addition, organisations need to identify high-risk employees or job titles – such as those in finance – that cybercriminals are likely to target, and ensure they invest in additional awareness training and security controls for such employees.

Kaspersky Threat Intelligence – Catching targeted cyberattacks before they even happen

A recent flood of cyberattacks has crippled multiple businesses and government institutions around the world.

By way of example, earlier this year, websites related to religion, voluntary programmes, charity, and several other areas were compromised to selectively trigger a drive-by download attack resulting in a malicious programme set up on the targets’ devices and subsequently, multiple businesses around the world were compromised.

All in all, cybercriminals created the situation, in which the victim without a cybersecurity solution installed on a device, would get infected by simply visiting a certain website. In the campaign, named Holy Water, such traps had been set-up on websites that belong to personalities, public bodies, charities and various organisations.

While multiple entities globally suffered from such attacks, the businesses and institutions with compromised websites also suffered reputational damages.

With the increased reliance on digital technologies, malicious attackers see more opportunities to exploit weak cybersecurity systems.

Government and businesses must therefore acquire effective solutions to fight all types of cyberattacks to prevent a breakdown of services and data theft.

While security solutions can help to prevent the infection, the cybersecurity industry is now going further to protect businesses and individuals at the earlier stage. To do it, ‘threat hunters’ gather intelligence data and employ the information in the most effective way.

So, how does it work and what could large businesses do to protect themselves from being compromised, money loss, and reputational losses?

Here is Kaspersky’s outline of the most up to date threat intelligence tools and mechanisms:

Kaspersky Threat Intelligence Portal

Tracking, analysing, interpreting and mitigating constantly evolving IT security threats is a massive undertaking, however, this is where the Kaspersky Threat Intelligence Portal comes in.

The solution leverages rich threat data gathered over two decades by Kaspersky , as well as advanced machine learning technologies, and research from a unique pool of global experts.

It can also be integrated with existing security systems, including SIEM, firewalls and intrusion detection-devices.

This provides a 360-degree view of the tactics and tools used by threat actors to help businesses maintain cyberattack immunity, even against previously unseen threats.

Threat Data Feeds and Intelligence Reports

Kaspersky pulls its threat data from more than 100 million users across the globe.

It also employs web crawlers, BotFarm, spam traps, sensors, open-source intelligence, and industry-led and private communities to provide up-to-the-minute and immediately actionable cyberthreat data.

Kaspersky Threat Intelligence users also get access to the following reports:

  • APT Intelligence Reporting
  • Financial Threat Reporting
  • ICS Reporting

Cloud Sandbox and Threat Lookup

Additionally, Kaspersky Threat Intelligence users can improve incident investigation and threat hunting through the solution’s Cloud Sandbox and Threat Lookup features.

Cloud Sandbox allows Kaspersky to detect more than 350,000 new malicious objects every day, giving businesses immediate insight into the nature of any file to allow for a rapid response to security incidents.

Threat Lookup lets the user perform a real-time search of over 20PB of data on threats, legitimate objects, and their relationships, to carry out effective and complex incident investigations.

Digital Footprint Intelligence

Kaspersky’s experts construct a comprehensive picture of a business’ attack status, revealing evidence of past, present, and future attacks – and identifying possible weak spots which can be exploited.

This allows the business to make informed decisions on budget, resource, and staff allocations to focus their defensive strategy on prime targets.

Kaspersky Threat Intelligence is suited for all manner of entities – including enterprises, government, and financial services, as well as managed security and critical infrastructure providers.

Impact of remote working, changing office market could be far-reaching

 Ever since the Covid-19 hard lockdowns began in all seriousness across the world earlier this year, the world has been abuzz with talk of how the crisis has changed the world, and at the centre of much of the debate has the sudden forced move to working from home for many office employees, and the rapid and successful adaptation to online interactions with colleagues, clients and business partners, online events and webinars, and more.

Various employee surveys appear to confirm the popularity of remote working amongst many services sector employees, saving them costs and time on daily commuting.

Some concerns have been flagged, with some pointing to human relationships between fellow employees perhaps “going a step backwards” due to a lack of “same location” interaction, but even many people harbouring some of those concerns often agree that while there may be a need for some time at the office, the amount of time could be significantly reduced.

Nevertheless, while remote working will not be without flaws, the office work force in large parts of the world has become far more capable to work remotely over this crisis period, increasingly enabled by the systems and platforms that support remote work.

But the Covid-19 lockdowns have probably given the scale of working from home a massive boost for another reason over and above forcing people into getting used to it. The lockdowns have also contributed to a very deep recession, putting significant financial pressure on many businesses across the world. Many CFOs will thus likely be eyeing out cost-cutting opportunities, and reducing the amount of costly office space owned or leased by their companies would surely be one such potential opportunity.
The recently released KPMG CEO Outlook, the results of a CEO survey of 315 global corporate CEOs (including 100 in the US) points to a widespread desire to scale back on office space. Besides a widespread acceleration of digital investments, a major 68% indicated that they plan to downscale their companies’ office space.

Besides the cost reduction aspect, 72% of the CEOs saw benefit from remote working in terms of widening their talent pool. And why wouldn’t it? Many of us have considered a new job prospect in part based on where the job is located, commuting time in South Africa’s increasingly (until recently, at least) congested cities more-and-more an issue.

It is thus realistic to expect that following the relative success of this forced remote working “experiment” across the world, a greater portion of the office worker population of the economy will find themselves working from home either full time or part time.

This has potentially major implications not only for office property landlords, already faced with significant vacancy rates, but also for the likes of residential developers and urban planners, as many households’ location and lifestyle decisions change. But it will be unknown territory for the property industry for some time, and there will be a lot of feeling the way forward.


Key questions around potential impacts of an increasing remote working trend


How fast and what magnitude?

The first big question regards the timing and magnitude of the potential move to get a greater portion of the office workforce operating either full-time or part-time from home. Certainly, due to the lockdown, many corporates have rapidly scaled up their remote working capabilities. But for many, the offices and their costly infrastructure are still standing fully functional and ready for their inhabitants to return, albeit in smaller numbers in some cases due to social distancing measures within the buildings. At what speed does the amount of office space get scaled down then? That may well be influenced in part by when leases expire or when an alternative use is found for a building in some cases.

And, of course we have yet to ascertain to what extent management is comfortable with staff working remotely from a simple control and working relationships point of view. It is one thing to try and take a positive view on something when you have no choice (i.e. management have been forced to accept remote work for the time being whether or not they like it), but it is a different matter when you do have the choice. When the Covid-19 crisis is completely past, and offices fully “open” again, then we will see to what extent old management habits have changed or not.

In short, the pace and magnitude of the remote work drive is a major unknown for the property industry, and the challenge is not to over- or under-expect on this change.


How far away from the office will households be prepared to live?

If one needs to commute to the office far less frequently, the distance of the trip from home to office becomes less of an issue in deciding where to work or where to live. On average, one would expect many households to be prepared to live somewhat further away than previously the case, should they in future be required to travel to the office or to business meetings less frequently compared to previously having to do the trip almost daily.

This comfort with living further from their official place of work would be enhanced should a greater level of remote working ease the traffic congestion in cities too.

But again, this will all depend on the speed and magnitude of a potential future remote working trend.


Will there be a big city exodus?

Again, one has to guard against over-expecting on the magnitude of any increased pace of relocation to the country towns or popular semigration destinations on the other end of the country from peoples’ work headquarters. The weak economy has placed significant financial constraints on many households.

The weekly commuting option by plane for some from the likes of Cape Town or Durban to Gauteng for instance, could conceivably increase in popularity should it be possible for many such weekly commuters to make the trip to headquarters less frequently, perhaps only once every few weeks for important business interactions.

But weekly commuting by aircraft is and will remain for the affluent few. It remains costly. In addition, for many corporate employees there will likely still be sudden unexpected in-person interactions or client/site visits that crop up, and in such cases being a two-hour flight away is often impractical.

Therefore, where I would expect more of an impact of remote work over time is within a big city itself, more households over time living on average further from their office but still within the same city or metro region.

And I would extend this to include a noticeable increase in popularity of living in surrounding towns perhaps a two-hour drive from the office but not a two-hour flight away. For Gauteng commuters, Potchefstroom springs to mind as one example, a sizeable town with amenities such as retail, schools, a university and medical facilities that many working households would want, and around an hour-and-a-half drive away from Joburg.

But there is one further factor to consider when formulating one’s expectations on this. Household desire to leave the city for quieter and less congested towns depends on cities remaining as they are. But if the remote work experiment is a rousing success, and goes far to alleviating the dreaded congestion on the roads over time, and our daily involvement therein, then perhaps city suburban living will be more appealing after all. So nothing is cut and dried.


Has space become more important for households? In what ways could space have become more important?

Firstly, lockdown can’t have been nearly as pleasant for those households living in apartments or small cluster houses as it was for those with free standing full title homes with gardens. Does the memory of lockdown lead to a longer term desire by many to move to a more spacious premises? Possibly, but only time will tell.

Secondly, and strongly linked to remote work, is the likelihood that many of us may spend far more time in our homes in future, if remote working takes off as many expect. No longer will the home be a mere place to spend a few “off duty” hours, but a far greater portion of our waking hours too. The home then becomes far more important to our quality of life, and for many who have the financial means, a more spacious home with suitable workspace may become a priority.

It would also appear that as we emerge from hard lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic fears, a portion of households across the world is focusing more on health and well-being, which includes exercise and the outdoors. Bicycle shops and manufacturers the world over have been pointing to a major bike sales boom during and after lockdown, partly to avoid using public transport in developed countries, but seemingly also for recreational purposes. Should this trend last, it points to a greater value placed on safe and well-kept open public recreational spaces and roads.

For those who can afford it, this may point to some renewed popularity in larger homes and homes located near to such safe outdoor recreational amenities.

But what then of high-density living near to major business nodes?

A further question stems from whether there are any potential “losers” from any future remote working trend? The obvious one at risk is office property, with a likely drop in demand for such space, and office landlords will be required to “get creative” with their buildings. Inner cities have perhaps shown us a way, with significant repurposing of unused office space into high density (often affordable) residential property.

However, in tandem with the question around office space, we would need to ask the same question regarding high density residential property in close proximity to major office nodes.

One of the key selling points for especially higher end high-density residential living is being close to place of work and avoiding a lengthy daily commute through heavy traffic.

So if there is far less daily commuting, less people physically working in major office nodes, and less traffic congestion, how does this impact on the popularity of, and demand for, high-density residential living?

My guess is that more affordable residential living units will remain in demand, but I’m less sure of higher end high-density living. Does a portion of its demand shift to more spacious homes in the more far flung suburbs with their relative spaciousness?

The property development sector will likely have to grapple with this question too.

Finally, do many company offices de-centralise further too?

Companies have in the past often considered their head office locations based on what suits management, clients or staff. Questions such as where management prefers to live, or is there good transport infrastructure to and from work for their staff have likely often been asked.

Central business districts and major de-centralised nodes have typically been the places around which transport planners have planned and rolled out infrastructure. These nodes have thus attracted businesses in greater numbers, while the need to be physically close to associated businesses and clients also led to companies conglomerating around major nodes. If far more business activity takes place remotely, does this lead to increased de-centralisation of companies too, not only to city decentralised nodes but even to smaller towns for lifestyle purposes? The potential exists for well-run municipalities and “lifestyle” towns to actually compete for a portion of this business.


The widely anticipated longer term remote working drive has potentially far reaching implications for the property market, not only for office but other property sectors too.

In the near term, though, there will be more questions than answers surrounding this potential trend. While many corporate CEOs appear to be planning for greater levels of remote work, as yet the pace and magnitude of the remote working trend is difficult to guage.

While many companies may have embraced remote work because they were forced to, the true extent of this enthusiasm from management teams and employees alike will only become clear once the Covid-19 crisis has passed and office buildings are 100% open once more, i.e. when people are free to choose.

Nevertheless, significant enthusiasm for the concept should be expected, given the success of the lockdown remote working “experiment”, and asking the relevant questions as to its impacts is thus important.

These questions include:

  • What will be the pace and magnitude of any trend towards remote work, with much office space and infrastructure still in place for the time being?
  • In a scenario of less frequent commuting to and from the office, and possibly less traffic congestion too, how far away from their official place of work will households be prepared to live in future? This has potential benefits for more far-flung suburban property markets.
  • Will there be a big city exodus? Let’s not get too carried away, but it is likely that living in smaller towns outside of major metros may increase in popularity, as might long distance commuting by plane for an affluent few.
  • Has space become more important for households? The building trend in recent decades has been towards smaller average size of units, smaller average stand sizes, and increased sectional title properties. Does this trend slow as a portion of households with the financial means look for larger and more spacious homes with appropriate work space? It makes sense if you’re spending far more time at home.
  • And what about high density living near major business nodes? Does that lose its popularity if less people work in those nodes, at a time when office owners might be looking for potential building repurposing opportunities?
  • If business travel and physical company events are also set to decline, due to the success of operating online, what does this mean for the corporate-driven hotel and conference venue demand and those property markets?
  • Finally, do company offices de-centralise further, with smaller cities and towns potentially picking up a greater chunk of what office “pie” is left?

Briefing to resolve Cape refugee issue delayed to mid-October

Cape Town - The matter of the refugees currently housed in two tented camps in Cape Town took a turn on Tuesday after Parliament's portfolio committee on home affairs was forced to postpone a briefing to discuss the issue.

The scheduled meeting between the committee, the City, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Department of Home Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to discuss the situation was scrapped after MPs rejected the late submission of presentations by all the groups except for the UNHCR.

The City did not submit a report and its representative, Mayco member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien, said: “We must express the confusion with which we received the invitation.

“The confusion for us is that as a local authority we have very little responsibility over refugees per se, so it was not very clear to us what you were requesting in a report from the City."

Acting chairperson of the committee, Mosa Chabane, praised the UNHCR for submitting its report on time, but was “perturbed” by the lateness of the others.

“It is concerning that the City appears to want to absolve themselves from the matter, when the committee was unequivocal that a collaborative effort was necessary to deal with the issues of the refugees at the Green Market Square,” said Chabane.

“We are cognisant that all spheres of government have specific roles and responsibilities.

"However, we were clear that the relevant stakeholders must work together to resolve the matter.

"It is in this context that the committee expected a briefing from the City, but the City’s attitude undermines intergovernmental relations and the standing of the portfolio committee."

Members of the committee were unanimous in their condemnation of the the City, the SAHRC and the department. The standing rule in Parliament is that presentations be sent to MPs at least 48 hours earlier.

The Department of Home Affairs' report was received on Monday. Home Affairs Minister Aaron Mosoaledi apologised for the tardiness.

“I wasn’t aware that my report was received late ... even though I had given instructions for the report to be sent. If they sent it late, I wish to apologise profusely. I have always respected the committee,” said Motsoaledi.

The committee has resolved to defer the matter to mid-October to get a comprehensive report individually and jointly from all relevant stakeholders on the matter.