New Clicks Holdings is one of South Africa’s premier retail groups, with more than 900 stores operating under brands including Clicks and Discom. The group focuses on health, beauty and lifestyle products and services.

One popular product line is prepaid airtime for mobile phones: 64% of all South Africa’s cellphone users, and 78% in the 20-24 age bracket, manage their cellphone budgets this way. Prepaid airtime has traditionally been sold in the form of plastic scratch cards, but these have a number of disadvantages. Not only are they vulnerable to theft, it can be difficult and expensive to ensure a regular, adequate supply, particularly in more remote parts of the country. In response retailers have increasingly opted for selling “virtual airtime” in the form of coded vouchers printed at the point of sale.

New Clicks made the decision to sell virtual airtime rather than plastic scratch cards in its Clicks and Discom stores to minimise administrative requirements at till points, as well as to combat high levels of shrinkage. In most of its stores airtime sales were able to piggyback on existing communications infrastructure; in just over 90 stores, however, there was no existing telephone or infrastructure – and no option of installing a radio-based solution because of lack of coverage.

CellPAD’s low cost and outstanding coverage made it a natural choice for New Clicks. “The GSM networks gives us about 97% coverage of the entire country,” notes consultant Roger White, who assisted New Clicks with the project. “Nothing else comes close.”

Each of the 90 stores now has a CellPAD device operating, linked into store networks so that every till point has access. “We rolled out to all 90 stores in a month,” says White. “The rollout was surprisingly easy, you just stick it in and go. We had problems with weak signal strength in nine stores, but those were resolved by putting in stronger antennas.”

“It’s a good, working solution,” says White. “The CellPAD will definitely replace other wireless options, it offers superb coverage at relatively low cost. Datalinx were in the vanguard in South Africa and they deservedly lead the market.”

Thanks to the CellPAD solution for prepaid airtime, says George Lilley of Clicks, “we’ve eliminated the shrinkage problem entirely. There’s also a major benefit to our customers in that we can’t ever run short of stock, which was sometimes a problem in the more remote stores. So we’ve been able to offer better service to our customers and lower our own costs at the same time.”

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