With the pandemic continuing to disrupt the retail betting sector across the world, the possibility of things returning to ‘normal’ in 2021 might still appear to be a distant hope. But according to George Shamugia (pictured below), CEO of Singular, this presents new opportunities for operators to make the shift towards online betting.
Speaking to SBC, Shamugia looks at why, in some countries, cashless and staff-less betting shops filled with terminals could facilitate retail’s emergence from the pandemic and how the overall prospects for the gambling industry appear to be bright.
SBC: 2020 proved to be a very difficult year for the retail betting sector, with shops forced to close their doors. But looking towards the remainder of 2021, what do you think will be the driving force behind retail’s emergence from the pandemic?
GS: 2020 was indeed a difficult year for the retail sector, especially in countries relying heavily on brick-and-mortar where retail represents a substantial share of the gaming operators’ revenue. We have even observed that some retail operators with small or no online operations have run out of business completely.
Given the development of the pandemic and the new strains and vaccination phases, I don’t think 2021 will be any different from 2020, especially in the countries where retail plays a major role in operations. Retail will remain either closed or will receive significantly lower traffic compared to 2019.
I guess the ones who are flexible enough and open to changes will start investing in online operations. This, of course, depends on the regulation and infrastructure of specific markets. One alternative solution could be promoting ticket booking applications and converting retail shops into cash deposit and withdrawal points. Drawing on the experience of one of our clients who already took this approach and is gaining good traction, this can be the right approach for retail operators.
Even once the pandemic is over, people might have a hard time getting back to old habits. Thus I guess this is a good time and opportunity (where regulations and infrastructure allows) for operators to start investing in online operations and minimise their dependency on retail. In gaming as well across the industries, I think this would be the right approach for years to come.
SBC: Have you seen any changes in demand for Singular’s retail solutions as we enter 2021? Are more clients opting for your terminal solutions?
GS: At this moment, there are no significant changes in demand for our retail solutions from existing or new clients. Two of our existing clients have even postponed deployment of the SSBT (terminal) solutions at their retail shops till the end of 2021. Instead, what we’re seeing is more countries and territories regulating online sports betting or gaming in general.
Retail-oriented operators seek new and innovative online solutions that will enable them to transition their existing user base into the online domain. Moreover, operators already in the digital space are looking for platform providers that can take their brands into newly-regulated markets and quickly adapt to the regulatory requirements and players’ preferences unique for those markets as a way to increase revenues and scale geographically.
SBC: Do you think greater use of terminals might ultimately save the sector in countries where online bets are fast taking over? Are we moving towards ‘cashless’ and ‘staffless’ shops?
GS: It will differ from country to country highly depending on their culture. We have observed few general patterns from the experience of our clients.
First, customers find terminals less convenient to place their bets on compared to the ‘over the counter’ experience, especially in the countries where users tend to put 10s of odds/positions on a single ticket. Second, elderly users (especially in less tech-savvy countries) have resistance to terminals.
Finally, whenever we offer a mobile experience via a native/web app, users prefer it over terminals. Even if it is a feature as small as the Ticket booking app, they tend to stick with mobile experience and only utilise terminals/cash-desks as means of depositing cash.
When it comes to taking measures against COVID-19 and complying with health and safety regulations, utilising Ticket booking apps and cash-desks at retail locations only for the cash deposit and withdrawal operations could be a safer choice than terminals. Since users are physically interacting with terminals, there is no one to ensure their sanitation and cleanliness after every single use.
Also, I have to mention that in some retail-heavy countries, especially across the African continent, Terminals seem to be more expensive and less affordable for operators than hiring shop personnel.
Taking all the above into consideration, we believe that businesses will gradually move to the online domain. Retail shops will play a role in user acquisition, gaining trust among customers. Having a physical location where players can directly interact with the business in-person plays a crucial role in building trust.
As observed, players trust operators with a retail presence more compared to those who are online only. Apart from that, retail locations can act as lounges for VIP users or be a place for socialising. This will result in higher brand loyalty among the players.
But I have to say again it will still depend heavily on the country and its culture. In some countries, cashless and staff-less retail locations packed with Terminals might be the way to go.
SBC: How important will your Ticket Booking app be in 2021 when punters may still be apprehensive of the ‘over the counter experience’?
The Ticket Booking app was already showing steady growth in the number of users even before the pandemic. In 2021 it will play a crucial role for retail operators to guarantee continuity of their business and provide a safe way of betting for their users.
What’s more, it can even play a significant role as an intermediary solution in the process of transitioning retail users to the online domain in regions where regulations are in place for online operations.
SBC: What’s next for your retail-based solutions given the seismic shift of players towards the online space?
GS: My belief has always been that online will take over retail even in retail-dominant countries. Only if and when the infrastructure was in place and the players had the experience to do so.
But at the same time, we see that retail is playing a crucial role across the value chain. We believe that retail products should act as an extension to online products forming a holistic value chain. Users can start playing at a retail location and later continue their experience on the move on their smartphones and later maybe complete the engagement from the comfort of their own house via desktop or tablet.
Also, retail is a place where players socialise, and products have to capture this and deliver unique social features and experiences that can’t be experienced alone in front of the screen. With this approach, retail can always offer something unique and different that will complement the online offering and create a holistic experience for the players.
We are taking this approach across our product portfolio. So far, for our clients, it has proven to be the right one. We believe it will rapidly gain more traction after all these seismic shifts happening in the retail space.
SBC: And finally, what are your top predictions for 2021? What would you most like to achieve as a company?
GS: Based on current developments related to the pandemic, in 2021, at least until Q4, we don’t see any significant changes in the industry. We believe that online gaming’s growth will continue, more retail operators will attempt to strengthen their positions online or initiate the transition to online operations.
At the same time, continuing the trend from 2020, I believe we will witness the regulation of more new territories as a stimulus for the economy. The general outlook for the gambling industry is pretty good, with activities leaning more towards online operations.
All these changes in the industry, such as retail operators looking forward to investing more in online operations and new territories undergoing regulations, brought a huge demand for our omnichannel iGaming and Sports Betting platforms. For us, 2021 will focus on utilising and meeting all these growing demands and revenue streams.