The world is becoming more and more digital. You can now source products from around the globe with the click of a button. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is no exception. There is an array of product providers that can supply what you need over the web or per an order form, but what if you want your PPE right now? Or would like to try it on?
Oliver Facey, vice president of operations for DHL Express Sub Saharan Africa, says that online shopping not only offers consumers access to a greater selection of products, with easy-to-compare prices, but also allows individuals to purchase products that may not yet be available in their own country.
According to figures from the International Telecommunication Union, in South Africa 51 percent of individuals with internet access shop online. Nigeria’s online shopping sector grew from NGN 68,4 billion (R4,22 billion) in 2011, according to a 2014 Phillips Consulting survey, to NGN 78 billion (R4,81 billion) in 2012 – representing a growth of 25 percent.
“Online shopping is definitely the way to go, from a convenience and cost saving point of view,” says Facey. South African PPE providers are, mostly, following this route as well and their websites are filled with online contact dialogue boxes and order forms.
Is this the right approach? What if you need your PPE in a hurry, or would like to try it on? Wouldn’t it be easier to driver to a shop and examine the item you want?
While massive PPE users, like mines, often have warehouses on their premises (to supply workers with this equipment) smaller PPE shops do have merit. North Safety Products Africa, a South African designer, manufacturer and marketer of personal protection and safety equipment products in the workplace, is driving this point home while focusing on customer service and expansion into Africa.
According to North’s CEO, Craig Garvie, the company constantly looks for opportunities to make improvements. “Currently we are focused on bettering our service ability. There are so many players in this sector and not everyone gives customers the service they’re entitled to.”
To accommodate all customers, North has opened a chain of retail stores around the country. “We see a huge market for smaller buyers looking for PPE supplies for their own businesses,” Garvie points out. “Our retail section is going to be about servicing the smaller business units, that have been neglected in the past.”
He observes that certain industry sectors lend themselves to retail. “Farming, for example, does not require large amounts of personal protective equipment. Farmers are not necessarily interested in a sales representative coming onsite to sell a small quantity of overalls. Instead, they find it more convenient to go into town, once a week, to purchase the necessary PPE items hassle-free.”
According to Garvie, contractors will also benefit. “The North retail store is ideal for a contractor who may have been awarded a new job and needs to quickly collect a PPE item for the day. It is also ideal for purchasing extra PPE, should a team have to be swiftly expanded due to unforeseen circumstances.”
He points out that the primary aim of the North retail stores is accessibility, by allowing customers to walk in and walk out with the products that they require. “We want to make our products freely available, provide customers with choice, while ensuring that our pricing remains competitive.”
It would seem that online shopping and dedicated stores do have their own pros and cons … South Africa should perhaps follow Europe’s suit, complementing the one service with the other?