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03 APRIL 2017
The dynamic digital South African consumer

by Wayne Hull: Managing Director and Head of Accenture Digital for South and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The collective voice of today’s dynamic digital consumers is growing louder, compelling goods and services providers to respond with enhanced organisational agility across their entire businesses. This means connecting the dots throughout the business by aligning digital capabilities with operations, technology and strategy.

In South Africa and globally, digital disruption is reinventing consumer expectations. This is driven by factors such as "always on" connectivity, pervasive social media, the rapid rise of voice recognition and artificial intelligence, and increasingly interactive user experiences across the entire customer lifecycle as well as across all channels.

Consumers expect their experience to adapt whenever they engage physically, digitally and emotionally. Today, advanced computing techniques can harness expanding volumes of personal data – search, social, geo-tagged sensors, payments, shopping carts, speech – to create the magic behind new hyper-personalised experiences.

A 2017 Accenture Digital Consumer Survey of 26,000 consumers in 26 countries, including South Africa, revealed four key findings about today’s digital consumers.

1. Artificial intelligence

Firstly, artificial intelligence is playing a central role in consumers’ lives. Consumers habitually use AI-driven features such as digital voice assistants. An overwhelming 84% of the 14- to 17-year olds surveyed currently use or are interested in using the voice-enabled digital assistant in their smartphone and about one-third of consumers in every age group are interested in these features.

In addition, consumers are increasingly comfortable interacting with AI-enabled capabilities, with 52% of all consumers interacting with their service providers through live chats or mobile messaging apps on a monthly basis and 85% of those saying it feels like it is easier to get in touch through these methods. Three out of five South African respondents interact with their service providers in these ways, with 89% of these saying they are a better way of getting in touch.

2. Engaging experiences

Secondly, engaging experiences are spurring the demand for smartphones. After dropping to a five-year low of 48% globally in 2016, consumer purchase intent rebounded by 6% globally in this year’s survey. In South Africa, there is an even more dramatic increase in consumer purchase intent from 52% in 2016 to 63% in 2017. A combination of factors could be contributing to this, but new experiences enabled by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are central.

New features and improved functionality are key drivers for smartphone purchases, globally and in South Africa. In fact, “accessing the newest and most innovative features” rose by 10% globally and 8% in South Africa as a primary reason as to why consumers are planning to purchase a new smartphone next year.

Consistent with their interest in hyper-personalisation, consumers have shown strong enthusiasm for AR and VR-enabled games for smartphones. They are also interested in a range of AR/VR applications beyond gaming.

Globally, these include learning new skills (34%), meeting virtually with remote friends/family (29%), getting localised information about places they are visiting (28%) and viewing 3D manuals 28%. The results differ somewhat for South African respondents, who are interested learning new skills (55%), visualising clothes (40%), viewing 3D manuals (39%) and getting localised information about places they are visiting (38%).

3. New access models

Thirdly, a potentially dramatic shift in how people are buying and accessing devices and services is imminent. Consumers have strong interest – globally 77% and in South Africa 83% – in new device acquisition models, such as leasing/renting and used phone purchasing. More than three-quarters of global consumers who plan to purchase a smartphone are open to other ways of accessing a new phone.

eSIM2 may also affect purchase cycles and carriers’ relations with consumers as the chip allows device owners to compare networks and select services at will, directly from the device.

4. Managing data

Fourthly, consumers want to be more engaged in managing their data. Despite successful efforts to increase data security, consumer confidence in the security of their personal data is eroding. When it comes to personalised services, top consumer concerns include the security of financial data (90% globally and 93% in South Africa) and identity theft.

Accenture’s survey shows that 87% of consumers globally and 94% of South African respondents believe it is important to be able to review and control their personal data online, but three quarters of these do not find it easy to manage their data. Consumers also indicate they are not sure about who to trust as service providers as those considered most trusted in the past have declined in consumer confidence. Trust in device manufacturers has however grown.

It is now critical for companies to find ways to maintain trust as consumers sort out who to trust and how to operate in a digital world that is increasingly dependent on their sharing of personal data.

Capturing dynamic digital consumers

As AI takes centre stage as a key enabler, hyper-personalised services that deliver on today’s dynamic digital consumers’ expectations will need to constantly adapt and evolve.

As consumers rapidly adapt to these heightened experiences, their intrigue with AR/VR-enabled functionality may pull device demand along – at least in the short term – although this may not always emerge in the form of brand new devices.

In addition, as new access models evolve, doors will open to new types of interaction with consumers and new ways of nurturing the customer relationship.

Amidst all this hyper-personalisation effort, transparency is critical. Personalisation is only relevant if it accurately assesses and meets customer needs and this is dependent on understanding the personal data shared by consumers. Transparency in how customer data is collected, used and shared will be mandatory to gaining consumer confidence, as will empowering them to maintain control of their own data.
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