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Texting For Cheaper Marketplace Food With SokoText

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

An international group of graduate-social entrepreneurs from the London School of Economics (LSE) is pioneering a way to reduce food prices in Kenya using mobile phones.

Answering a call to action to address global food insecurity by the Hult Prize (hultprize.org), the team members looked at how they could make food cheaper for urban slum dwellers.

The Hult Prize, funded by Swedish educational entrepreneur and billionaire, Bertil Hult, is a start-up accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs emerging from the world’s universities. The winner receives US $1 million and mentorship to make their idea become real.

SokoText (sokotext.com) (soko means market in Swahili) uses SMS (short message service) messages from mobile phones to empower vegetable sellers and kiosk owners in slums when it comes to bargaining the price for wholesale fresh produce. SokoText makes it possible for them to benefit from bulk prices by pooling their orders together every day. Usually vendors lack the funds to buy in bulk and have to make numerous time-consuming trips to the centre of Nairobi to buy stock.

SokoText reduces the price of fresh produce by 20 per cent for kiosk owners by buying the produce earlier in the supply chain. SokoText then delivers the food to a wholesale outlet at the entrance to the slum.

This approach makes available a wider range of produce and reduces the price. And best of all, it will knock down prices for the poorest people and enable them to buy more food and better quality food.

The team behind SokoText come from a variety of countries – Colombia, Canada, Kenya, Britain and Germany.

Hatched at the LSE, the enterprise prototyped its service in Mathare Valley, Nairobi, Kenya for four weeks during the summer of 2013 with 27 users and began the second phase of testing in November 2013, working with a local NGO, Community Transformers (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Community-Transformers-kenya/119937408165671).

According to SokoText, slum dwellers spend on average 60 per cent of their daily budget on food.

Mobile phones can be transformative since they are now a common communications tool, even in slums.

On the SokoText website, respected blogger and commentator on technology in Africa, Erik Hersman (http://whiteafrican.com/about/), calls it “a fantastic low-tech approach that could really scale for decreasing the inefficiencies in urban slum markets.”

SokoText’s 21-year-old co-founder and chief executive, Suraj Gudka, explained the genesis of the project to news and technology in Africa website, 140Friday.com.

“From our research, the Mama Mboga (small-scale vegetable retailers) spend between 150 and 200 Kenyan shillings (US $1.70 and US $2.3) daily, about 25 per cent of her revenue, to buy her stock, and since they do not buy in bulk they [she] get their goods at a higher price.”

Getting the market traders to cooperate is very difficult, Gudka found, because competition is fierce and trust is low. SokoText sees itself as a solution to this situation. By encouraging bulk buying by way of the SMS text service, there is no need to build trust between the traders before the produce is purchased.

“To use our service, the interested retailers would be required to send us an SMS every evening detailing what they need,” said Gudka, “and then we will source the produce and they come pick it up from us the next morning. In this way they do not have to incur the additional costs of transporting their goods and it also saves them time.”

SokoText is being incubated at the Nailab (nailab.co.ke) in Nairobi, a startup accelerator that offers a three to 12 month entrepreneurship program, with a focus on growing innovative technology-driven ideas.

SokoText’s summer pilot test confirmed taking the orders can work but found getting the product to the market in time was difficult.

The next step will be to set up a presence in the Mathare slum.

“We will be selling about seven to 10 different kinds of produce, and from our calculations, according to our projections for how much the Mama Mbogas buy every day, we hope to get  40-50 customers within three months,” Gudka said.

Resources

1) SokoText: The website explains further how the service works. Website: sokotext.com

2) Hult Prize: The Hult Prize Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to launching the world’s next wave of social entrepreneurs. It encourages the world’s brightest business minds to compete in teams to solve the planet’s biggest challenges with innovative ideas for sustainable start-up enterprises. Annual Hult Prize winners can make their ideas reality with the help of US $1 million in seed funding. Website: hultprize.org

3) White African: Where Africa and Technology Collide! Website: http://whiteafrican.com/about/

4) Nailab: Nailab (Nairobi Incubation Lab) is a startup accelerator that offers an entrepreneurship program focusing on growing innovative technology driven ideas. This is done through providing business advice, technical training and support, professional mentoring and coaching, giving access to market and fostering strategic partnerships as well as linking them to investors. Website: nailab.co.ke

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: December 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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SokoText co-founder Sofia Zab (left). She oversees SokoText’s marketing strategy and manages SokoText’s technology products.

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Mobile Phones Bring the Next Wave of New Ideas from the South

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Informa Telecoms and Media estimates mobile networks now cover 90 per cent of the world’s population – 40 per cent of whom are covered but not connected.

The rapid growth in take-up has made mobile phones the big success story of the 21st century. With such reach, finding new applications for mobile phones that are relevant to the world’s poor and to developing countries is a huge growth area. It is estimated that by 2015, the global mobile phone content market could be worth over US $1 trillion: relegating basic voice phone calls to just 10 per cent of how people use mobile phones.

Leonard Waverman of the London Business School has estimated that an extra 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country, leads to an extra half a percentage point of growth in GDP per person.

The experience of the US $100 laptops from the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) offers an important lesson on making technology work for the poor: the business model has to come first. In the case of OLPC, the big computer manufacturers are already offering low-cost laptops with extensive software and other support: and out-selling OLPC. And it is mobile phones that are proving how fast take-up can be if users are willing to pay for the service on offer.

A new report by the DIRSI (Regional Dialogue on the Information Society) on mobile phones and poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, unearths the strategies the poor use to access and use mobile telephony, and the main barriers to increasing usage. It also looks at how mobile phones have improved the lives of the poor.

The poor use them to strengthen social ties, increase personal security, and improve business and employment opportunities. Few share their phones and most own them. The only exceptions are Colombia and Peru, where the incentive is to share ownership. Most importantly, the study found that mobile phones are not a luxury good, but the most cost-effective solution to many problems.

Some 250 million Indians today have mobile phones. Many of them are people who make just US $2 or US $3 a day. More and more are getting access to computers and the internet, even in villages.

India’s Mapunity is pioneering ways to reduce the stress and anguish of the daily commute to work – something that seriously erodes people’s quality of life and affects their health. Owner Madhav Pai is using SMS technology to improve transportation in Bangalore by providing the Bangalore Traffic System’s information on bus routes, locations and congestion – all in real time – to mobile phones. The service is free for subscribers to Airtel, and at a small cost for others.

The service works by collecting information on cell phone signal density to build up a map of congestion at different intersections in the city. Tracking congestion has had two benefits: it not only shows where the trouble spots are, it has also enabled mobile phone companies to know where to place extra relay towers to boost capacity and reduce network overload.

This technology effectively turns the mobile phone into a GPS (global positioning system) mapper, with real-time updates.

The company is incubated at the N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

In Nairobi, Kenya computer science graduate Billy Odero’s MoSoko uses an SMS text bulletin board system for buying and selling via mobile phones. He got the idea when he had to move out of his university dormitory and needed to sell things to the other students. He was also interested in finding an apartment to share with other newly graduated students somewhere downtown. Tired of sifting through irrelevant ads on bulletin boards, Billy developed an SMS bulletin board system to help connect buyers and sellers in Nairobi. Sellers text into the MoSoko SMS gateway with information regarding the type of item they would like to sell (a bicycle, TV, couch), their location, and the asking price for the item. This information is stored in a database and can be easily accessed via SMS by potential buyers.

More ingenuity can be found in Fultola, Bangladesh. A modest internet café with just four workstations it may be, but remarkably all four can access the internet: through just one mobile phone. This is all possible because of something called an EDGE-enabled (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) mobile phone. One of the computers acts as a web server, while the other three workstations are connected to a small device no larger than a cigarette packet. All of this is wireless and possible because of the EDGE-enabled Motorola clamshell mobile phone using a USB cable connection to the server. The project is being supported by the Ndiyo ProjectGrameen Phone and Grameen Telecom.

People use the internet centre to keep in touch with relatives, check market prices, and seek job opportunities or access government websites. The project was co-ordinated by a team working for the GSM Association, the global confederation of mobile phone operators. The aim was to explore the extent to which mobile networks could provide Internet connectivity in developing countries, and to demonstrate the extent to which mobile telephony can increase access to online resources.

In Ghana, mPedigree uses mobiles to fight counterfeit drugs. The plague of counterfeit medicines in Africa kill thousands, and it is estimated between 10 and 25 per cent of all drugs sold in the developing world are fakes (BASCAP – Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy). And in Africa, this may be over 50 per cent (USFDA).

mPedigree founder Ashifi Gogo started his company to use mobile phones to protect people against counterfeit drugs and vaccines. “Buying medicine here is like Russian roulette,” said Gogo. “I don’t want people to have to choose between a drug that’s safe and more expensive and a drug that’s cheap and not genuine. Those choices shouldn’t be there.”

Ghanaian Gogo (also a graduate of Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering), lets consumers send an SMS to mPedigree to verify if a drug is legitimate while they are thinking about buying it in the drug store or the street market. The consumer types in the serial number found on the drug’s packet to a short code (a five-digit number similar to the ones used to top-up mobile phone credits). The consumer then receives an SMS response verifying the drug’s authenticity.

To publicise the service, mPedigree advertises in parallel with existing drug promotion campaigns by legitimate pharmaceutical companies. It is also getting publicity help from the local mobile phone provider, Mobile Content in Ghana.

Gogo hopes to expand the service to Nigeria and Mozambique – and eventually the rest of Africa.

Gogo is really enjoying the whole experience of setting up this business: “It’s fun!” he said. “It just feels so good doing this work.”

Resources

  • IdeaMamaClub: This online invention and business start-up incubator connects inventors and social entrepreneurs with investors, creative support and global business networks.
  • Stockholm Challenge Awards 2008: An initiative of the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), it has four categories and looks for innovative projects in ICT.
  • Terranet: A Swedish company, it has developed a way to make calls between a network of cellphones in a geographically close area, free. A powerful development for entrepreneurs in the South looking for free calls. They are piloting this technology in Ecuador.
  • SME Toolkit: A free online resource aimed at the South to help entrepreneurs and small businesses access business information, tools, and training services to be able to implement sustainable business practices.
  • Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles: EPROM, part of the Program for Developmental Entrepreneurship within the MIT Design Laboratory, aims to foster mobile phone-related research and entrepreneurship. Key activities include: development of new applications for mobile phone users worldwide.
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David South Consulting first launched in Toronto, Canada in 1991. In 2010 it had a brand re-launch, with a new logo and website developed in Reykjavik, Iceland using 100% renewable energy.
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Mobile Phone Shopping to Create Efficient Markets across Borders

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

An anticipated game-changing revolution in African trading set for 2013 is getting one innovative business very excited.

Southern African mobile phone “m-commerce” pioneer moWoza (mowoza.com) is developing new ways of selling services and products through mobile phones and developing the networks and infrastructure to capitalize on coming changes in Africa as cross-border trade is liberalized.

It is already selling food packages containing well-known South African brands that can be ordered by migrants on their mobile phones and then delivered to recipients – family or friends – even in remote and hard-to-reach communities. The service is currently operating between Mozambique and South Africa – the two countries share a border.

The start-up hopes to help the millions of migrant workers and small traders who contribute to the constant flow of trade and wealth between states in Africa. These people face many obstacles, including bureaucratic red tape, corruption and harassment.

Cross-border trade by economic migrants is largely informal. moWoza hopes to make it formal and efficient while reducing exploitation of migrants and corrupt practices by officials. By providing an easy-to-use mobile phone service, it hopes to build trust with these transactions.

Africa is a market of a billion people worth US $2 trillion in trade and business, but the World Bank estimates the continent is losing billions of dollars in potential earnings because of high trade barriers. It found that it is easier for African countries to trade with the rest of the world than with other African countries.

The continent’s leaders are calling for a continent-wide free trade area by 2017.

Studies by the World Bank and others have repeatedly shown that inefficient transport and trade barriers translate into higher prices of goods for consumers as importers pass along high transport costs to consumers. Food prices remain extremely high in Africa – almost 25 per cent higher than they were in 2006, according to the World Bank. In developing countries, people normally spend up to 80 per cent of their incomes on food.

With the world in the grip of an ongoing food crisis brought about by multiple factors – including growing populations, environmental challenges such as drought and soil depletion, declining rural economies, inefficient farming methods and commodity speculation – measures that increase efficiencies and trade can be a powerful counterweight and help drive prices back down again.

moWoza – mo stands for mobile and Woza is a Zulu word meaning running -sells a range of products including basic foodstuffs to a target market of cross-border migrants in Southern Africa. moWoza estimates there are 7 million migrant and cross-border shoppers in South Africa alone, and it’s building a network reaching into remote communities to deliver packages ordered through its m-commerce service on mobile phones.

moWoza aims to open up access to products in these underserved markets.

moWoza is trying to position itself for the new opportunities that will arise when, in 2013, 23 African borders open for regional trade, creating a vast trading area stretching from Cairo in Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa.

moWoza wants to be the m-commerce brand that people will turn to. It is chasing customer markets that include African economic migrants, small and medium-sized enterprises doing cross border trade, and the 30 million African economic migrants who are supporting family back in their home countries.

Founder Suzana Moreira says the company carried out extensive research in South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Kenya before launching its first trial runs between South Africa and Mozambique. “We ran several pilots to determine the most efficient way to provide access to packages for the beneficiaries and developed the necessary technology to enable our customers (migrants) to place orders simply. We are now operating between Johannesburg and Maputo,” she said.

Officially incorporated in 2009, moWoza did not get up and running until 2010.

Once a customer has experienced a delivery from moWoza, they are introduced to other services like banking or how to download information from the Internet. Many customers are only just learning about the resources available online.

“We look forward to the opening up of cross border trade as our findings suggest that the liberalization and facilitation of the cross-border trade initiative will increase demand for all products and services from South Africa to neighbouring countries,” Moreira said. “South Africa offers an extensive range of products compared to the choice of products that are offered in many of the neighbouring countries.

“The structures and networks that compel migrants to come to South Africa are well established,” she explained.

“The social networks encourage the movement of labour. Hundreds of thousands of male migrants from the Southern African Develoment Community, SADC (http://www.sadc.int/), countries have spent the greater parts of their working lives in South Africa. They in turn had parents or grandparents who had worked in South Africa, while providing a lifeline to the family in the home country.

“This practice will continue: mobile money to a degree will facilitate this lifeline but as long as products can be sourced cheaper in South Africa, the demand for South African products will continue.”

The people behind moWoza sound like business radicals, proclaiming that traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses will be replaced in a shopping revolution by WAP (wireless application protocol) and SMS (short message service) business platforms operating on mobile phones.

Apart from developing the m-commerce business, moWoza aspires to become a well-known brand for the migrant community.

“Becoming a lifestyle brand is a bold statement on our part,” Moreira said. “However, this goal reflects a measure of success and would demonstrate that we are delivering value to our customers (migrants and micro-merchants) and their beneficiaries.”

The moWoza brand hopes to reflect the lives of their customers and be all about embracing fluidity and mobility.

“As our primary customers are transnational and highly mobile (immigrants with a dual existence), we would like moWoza to represent mobility and fluidity (attune to anytime, anywhere, always).” she said. “Their greatest aspiration is an improved livelihood and a simplification of the rigours of grass-roots existence.”

moWoza foresees big changes coming for the economies of the African countries affected by the opening up of regional trade. According to its website: “New markets and trading routes will mushroom, traditional value chains will be replaced with ICT [information and communications technology] innovations; a savvier and younger consumer will emerge who will value convenience and simplicity.”

For users, moWoza’s service works like this: A customer uses a mobile phone to make a purchase. An agent helps with selecting the right package and delivery options. When the payment is made, an SMS mobile receipt – a so-called m-receipt – is sent to the customer. The person who will be receiving the parcel will also receive a text message. During the delivery process, ‘m-updates’ are sent on progress to both parties and when the parcel is finally delivered, a final notification is sent of delivery.

Special drop-off points have been set up in countries where the service is available and there is follow-up contact with the customer to determine their continuing needs.

MoWoza hires people from the communities they operate in as agents. An agent works with the customer to show how the Internet works on mobile phones and to improve their literacy skills.

Product parcels are selected to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) nutritional guidelines. The packages are selected based on focus groups and customer feedback.

With offices in South Africa and the United Kingdom, moWoza is looking forward to expanding what it can offer.

“We will continue to innovate, and deliver services that improve the livelihoods of our target market and their beneficiaries,” Moreira said. “We will extend our packages to include seeds and other agricultural products, school and educational materials, and health products. As we grow, our services will extend to digital (virtual) goods, e.g. insurance products specifically targeting the underserved communities.”

Resources

1) A downloadable map showing border delays, bribes and barriers impeding cross-border trade. Website: http://www.borderlesswa.com/resources/18th-usaid-uemoa-road-governance-map

2) Borderless Alliance: Removing Trade Barriers in West Africa: Borderless is a vision for competitive trade in West Africa – of eliminating barriers to trade. Streamlining procedures, attacking corruption and facilitating the movement of people and goods will lower costs. Consequently, businesses will expand, create jobs and generate more revenue for government and more income for people. Website: http://www.borderlesswa.com/

3) Borderless Conference 2013 and 2014: Call for proposals: The Borderless Alliance Secretariat announces a call for proposals to host the 2013 annual Borderless Conference. Borderless Conference 2013 will be the second transport and trade annual conference in West Africa, and will bring together more than 300 stakeholders from around the world to discuss efficiency in logistics, using data for decision making and advocacy. Website:http://www.borderlesswa.com/news/borderless-conference-2013-2014-call-proposals

4) West Africa Trade Hub: Website:http://www.watradehub.com

5) Trade Mark East Africa: Supporting East African Integration: Through TradeMark East Africa, a cost-effective regional aid delivery mechanism has been established that can focus on building long-term East African capacity. TradeMark East Africa provides a durable platform for scaling-up of Aid For Trade to East Africa. Website: http://www.trademarkea.com/home/

6) Geneva Trade and Development Forum. Website:http://www.gtdforum.org/

7) Spaza News: The newspaper aimed at spaza shop owners seeking to connect them. Website:http://www.spazanews.co.za/

8) Africa Trade Gateway: Website:https://www.africatradegateway.com/

9) Cross Border Trade Desk: This website is a ‘resource’ to help cross border traders in Eastern and Southern Africa to find an association near to them, to voice their opinions and explain what COMESA is doing in improving conditions for small-scale cross border traders. Website:http://www.cbtcomesa.com/

10) Defragmenting Africa website including the report De-Fragmenting Africa: Deepening Regional Trade Integration in Goods and Services by the World Bank. Website:http://tinyurl.com/cta3ykf

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Virtual Supermarket Shopping Takes off in China

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

An ingenious use of technological innovation and savvy trend-spottingis radically transforming the way people do their grocery shopping in China. Busy urban dwellers with time-poor lifestyles can now do their grocery shopping as they pass through Shanghai’s subway system and have their weekly shopping delivered to their home.

The country has experienced breakneck economic growth in the past 15 years, heading towards becoming the world’s largest economy. Much of this growth and new wealth has come from the transformation of China into the world’s manufacturing and exporting hub. But this also leaves an urban population of very busy people who need time-saving solutions to improve their quality of life.

China’s premier Wen Jiabao has now pledged to aid the world economy during the current economic crisis by boosting domestic Chinese consumption. And this new focus on consumption will open up opportunities for entrepreneurs.

“I believeChina’s economy can achieve longer-term, better-quality growth. This will be our new contribution to strong, sustainable global growth,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

And a big part of the boost in domestic consumption will come from modern retailers and supermarkets. Supermarkets were almost non-existent in China before the 1990s. The country sold food in a mix of small shops, open-air markets and through wholesale networks. It was a complex system overlaid with government bodies, marketing boards, brokers, wholesalers, distributors and government-licensed and government-run shops and vendors.

But this has radically changed as the country has moved to a modern retail system. Chinese cities now boast modern supermarkets, convenience stores, hypermarkets and warehouse clubs. There was just one modern supermarket in the country in 1990; by 2003, there were 60,000 (Chinese Chain Store and Franchise Association).

The supermarket model offers many benefits to anyone looking to sell products in the Chinese marketplace. Supermarkets are very competitive with each other and are always looking for new angles and new products to get the edge and win over new consumers. If they offer new tastes and variety, the chances are high they will attract more customers.

Supermarkets tend to offer a greater variety of food products than traditional markets. They are also cleaner, the quality control is better and more standardised, there is no need to haggle over prices and measurements and units for products are clearly labelled and controlled.

But supermarkets can also be criticized for monopolizing distribution networks, hurting small farmers by driving down prices and destroying independent retailers unable to compete with the economies of scale supermarkets can bring to bear.

In Shanghai- a city that has long been a retail pioneer in China- the Yihaodian online grocery company (http://www.yihaodian.com/product/index.do?merchant=1) is radically altering how people buy food by using “virtual supermarkets” in subway stations.

It is a convergence of several technological innovations to make something even better.

Shoppers download an app – or application – on to their mobile phones. This allows them to interact with large LED screens (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED_display) in subway stations which display images of products – from soap to noodle soup to nuts– just like in a catalogue. The shopper scrolls through the products and finds what they want to buy. Beside the images are barcodes. The shopper scans the product barcode with the phone and Yihaodian then delivers the products straight to their home within hours.

It is a very convenient service for busy workers trying to juggle the many demands of daily life.

The Yihaodian system is based on a similar technology pioneered inSouth Korea.

Yihaodian is riding a wave of growth for the company because of its innovative approach. It has seen sales rise by 28 percent each month and it hopes to make Euro 325 million (US $443 million) in 2011, four times its 2010 revenues. Proof of the value of investing in innovation.

Yihaodian is also showing how clever it is to offer a new way of doing things. It is pioneering a new business model while also recognising the reality of people’s busy lives in modern urban environments. Lily Yu, director of the company’s wireless application department, says it is about something bigger than just profits. “Changing people’s lifestyles is what we are striving for,” she told Monocle magazine.

Yu, founder of the Wireless Application Department at Yihaodian, joined the company in 2010 and leads the team to develop and introduce this technology and new way of buying products.

The only question remaining is this: how long before all retail will follow Yu’s lead?

Resources

1) Mobile Active: MobileActive.org connects people, organizations, and resources using mobile technology for social change. Website: http://mobileactive.org

2) How QR Codes Can Grow Your Business: A story on how to use these scannable codes. Website: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-qr-codes-can-grow-your-business/

3) Southern Innovator magazine: New global magazine’s first issue tackles the boom in mobile phone and information technologies across the global South. Website: www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Issue-1

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