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December 13, 2015

The retail challenge


In the no-holds-barred world of ICT retail in South Africa, success and failure are sometimes separated by the slimmest of margins, and only the toughest competitors last the distance.

The Margin decided to find out how two Durban-based retail businesses in this sector delineate the careful balance between triumph and disaster.


PC Zone

Describe your business

PC Zone has been in operation for 15 years and has always dedicated itself to giving the end user the best quality hardware, software and peripherals at a competitive and affordable price. We differentiate ourselves by offering our clients high-level expertise in an easy-to-understand way.

What does your typical customer base look like?

This one is very difficult to answer, as our customer base is so vast, covering everyone from IT professionals purchasing for companies, to teenagers with loads of knowledge, to people who understand absolutely nothing about ICT and are getting into computers for the first time. I find it amazing how many of our customers are purchasing computer equipment and peripherals for the first time.

What’s been your best-selling category in the past year?

There is no doubt that data storage is by far the fastest-growing and fastest-selling category at present. It really seems like people can never have too much storage.

What’s been your best-selling product in the past 12 months?

Without naming a specific brand, I can safely say our entry level laptops have sold really well in the last year. More and more people are clearly getting into IT, for various reasons, although I think students seem to be the biggest group buying in our stores at the moment. I suppose they all require access to e-mail and the internet, along with the ability to be portable on a limited budget.

What’s not selling as well as expected, despite a big push from vendors/ distributors?

Conversely, our high-end tablets have not been moving as fast as we would like. There seems little doubt that everyone wants one, but the price point at the moment seems to be out of reach of most consumers. The majority seem to be purchasing smaller, no-name brands instead.

What’s been the biggest surprise product?

I have certainly been surprised to note how well network cabling and accessories have been selling. It seems an increasing number of home users are looking to install their own home networks. It’s also interesting to note that many shy away from wireless, preferring instead to buy cable, accessories and tools to DIY their own cabled networks.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

The challenge I like dealing with the least is finding someone to replace a long-serving staff member. It’s always so difficult, as you have to start all over again training a new employee, and ultimately it takes a long time to fill the knowledge hole that is left behind.

What’s the strangest question/request you’ve been asked by customers?

I’ve had a customer come back to our store, screaming and shouting at one of our sales people and accusing them of not having a clue as to what they were selling. After calming the customer down, we asked him to explain his problem. When he told us that he had come here specifically looking for an optical mouse, I replied that, in fact, all our mouses were optical ones. In response, he threw the mouse at me, exclaiming: “how can this be an optical mouse if it has a cable?” He was kind of sheepish when we explained to him that what he wanted was a wireless mouse, rather than an optical one.

What defines a good day?

It may sound shallow, but a good day is always one where sales are good and our margins are up. And of course, it’s always nice to have days when everything just runs according to plan as well.

Who is your business or technology hero, and why?

It might be a little clichéd, but it would have to be Bill Gates. I don’t believe computers would be anywhere near where they are today without him. Moreover, doing everything he has done in growing the Microsoft empire indicates that not only is he an IT genius, he’s also one heck of a businessman.


iComputing Solutions

Describe your business

We’re an authorised Apple retailer, but our differentiator is that we also focus extensively on the service, support and maintenance side. Our people have the necessary skills sets and we have a fully kitted-out Apple workshop, although we also do callouts as required. Our offering is an end-to-end one, which includes warranty assessments and after-market upgrades. We’re one of only a handful of Apple service specialists in our region, and we have technicians that are certified on the Apple server platform, which is a niche market where we offer high-end support and deployment services.

What does your typical customer base look like?

Our company’s clientele is divided into three areas, namely the education sector – mostly tertiary institutions; the end-user, who mostly utilises our retail store; and the enterprise market, which is mostly serviced by our workshop facilities. I would say the split is about 30 percent education, 60 percent enterprise and ten percent end-user. The retail space is, however, growing rapidly, as more people see the benefits Apple offers and at the same time the perception that Apple is too expensive is changing.

What’s been your best-selling category in the past year?

In the enterprise space, our biggest seller is definitely the iMac range, while in the retail market, our laptops are certainly the biggest movers.

What’s been your best-selling product in the past year?

This would have to be either the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

What’s not selling as well as expected, despite a big push from vendors/ distributors?

One product that has been a surprisingly slow mover in our store has been the iPad. Although we’ve seen students go for this product, because it’s becoming a requirement in universities, we still regard it as a slow mover. I think part of the reason is simply that Apple released the iPad 4 and the iPad Air in quick succession, so a lot of those who purchased the iPad 4 felt there was no need to upgrade again so soon.

What’s been the biggest surprise product?

There have been two very interesting product ranges that have surprised us – the Thule range of backpacks, covers and bags has been a very big seller, as have been the portable backup battery kits by Swiss. We only took the latter on as a trial and they‘ve really sold beyond expectations.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

One challenge we still face is the general perception that Apple products are too expensive, while the availability of spares can be a challenge sometimes too. This, in turn, leads to another difficulty, which I like to refer to as the ‘now-now’ challenge: the fact that regardless of the type of repair required, people expect their device to get fixed immediately. The other major challenge we face as an independent Apple retailer is that there is only one Apple distributor in this country, and it also owns the iStores. This means that in situations where there’s a shortage of stock – like over Christmas – its stores get first allocation of what is available. It’s a bit like trying to play football against someone who is both player and referee at the same time.

What’s the strangest question/request you’ve been asked by customers?

It was a customer who somehow managed to miss the Apple logos all over our store and came up and asked whether we could assist with repairs to his Samsung.

What defines a good day?

For me, customer satisfaction and seeing clients walk out the door with a smile is the most critical issue. Obviously sales are important, but a good day is one in which every customer leaves the store 100 percent satisfied with what we’ve done for them.

Who’s your business or technology hero, and why?
This probably won’t be a surprise: Steve Jobs. The manner in which he built the Apple brand and designed its innovative products, he’s someone who really changed the world, by changing the way in which consumers approach these types of products and the manner in which they are incorporated into our lifestyle. Besides, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be in business today.

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  • About Us

    iComputing Solutions (ICS) is an approved Apple Authorized Reseller & Preferred Service Provider for South Africa.

    As one of only two Authorized Apple Resellers in the entire KZN Province, as well as displaying momentous success in a service & support capacity, ICS’ achievements have strongly established a highly respected presence within the South African Apple Market.

  • Contact Info

    ICS on Florida
    204 Florida Road, Morningside, Durban
    South Africa
    iComputing Solutions cc

    Email: info@icomputing.co.za

    Operation hours:
    Monday - Friday : 8am - 5pm
    Saturdays : 8am - 2pm
    Sundays and Public Holidays : Closed

    *We are open on some Public Holidays (please enquire).