COVID-19: The Role That Retail Can Play

With the Covid-19 lock-down upon us, households that can afford it have stocked up on essentials like food, electricity and airtime.

But for 30 million South Africans that live on less than the upper-bound poverty line of R1183 per month, this was simply not an option. This inability to stock-up ahead of the 27th of March lockdown threw social distancing out the window as millions of South Africans used public transport to get to retailers and waited in queues to access stores to purchase essential goods.

The sad reality is that South Africa remains a deeply unequal society. Efforts to reduce this inequality gap will be hindered by economic devastation that will inevitably follow from the forced isolation, imposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to curb the spread of Covid-19. Businesses, both in the formal and informal economies will battle to keep their doors open and thousands of jobs are expected to be lost. Government, business and labour are working together in a desperate effort to find solutions to prevent large scale business failure.

“The coronavirus pandemic provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate how we can collectively use our resources and skills to fill an enormous gap in providing essential services to all people in South Africa” says Warren Steyn, co-founder of Flash.

Flash is in a unique position to keep its network of over 172 000 informal traders operating over the next three weeks – they provide an essential service by selling electricity and airtime to people in their communities. In particular airtime and data are vital as people attempt to stay abreast of current news regarding the spread of the virus.

Through Flash technology, informal traders service 22 million people a month, processing 58 million micro transactions for a variety of services a day.

“We want to minimise the number of people who are taking public transport to buy electricity or airtime and keep money in communities,” says Warren Steyn.  “We need to ensure that the informal economy functions to reduce economic stresses on communities. We believe having well-functioning informal traders is an essential line of defence in defending the country’s economy.”

However, providing a ‘cash-in’ service is critical to keeping Flash’s 172 000 informal traders open to service customers who live in a compromised socio-economic environment.

Flash Traders fund their trading balances by purchasing Flash Tokens.  Flash Tokens are 16-digit pins that Flash traders purchase to top up their Flash machines.  This enables them to sell essential services using a balance on their machines. Flash has historically partnered with wholesalers, banks, Shoprite and the Pepkor Group to facilitate these top up transactions.

However as the pressure on retailers mounts and many non-essential top up points have been closed, Flash is working with additional national food retailers who can provide much needed cash-in services to 172 000 informal traders who in turn service 22 million citizens in local communities.

“We are working with business and government to respond collectively to this crisis and offer whatever resources we can to help,” says Warren Steyn. “There may be differences in ideology and opinion between us, but there is also a new level of solidarity. We are working to create a cooperative national retail environment between competitors and between formal and informal traders. The number one priority is to minimise the impact on the health of our citizens and foreign residents. We are all in this together”.


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