With the ongoing pandemic continuing to disrupt the retail betting sector around the world, the possibility of a return to normal in 2021 still seems a distant hope. But loud George Shamugia (picture below), CEO of SingularThis offers the operators new opportunities to switch to online betting.
Speaking to SBC, Shamugia explores why, in some countries, cashless and terminal-filled betting shops with no staff could facilitate the emergence of retail out of the pandemic and how the general outlook for the gambling industry looks positive.
SBC: 2020 turned out to be a very difficult year for the retail betting sector as stores were forced to close their doors. However, if you look to the rest of 2021, what do you think will be the driving force behind the retail emergence from the pandemic?
GS: 2020 was indeed a difficult year for retailers, especially in countries that rely heavily on brick-and-mortar retail and where retailers make up a significant portion of gaming providers’ sales. We even found that some retail companies with little or no online activity have completely ceased operations.
Given the evolution of the pandemic and the new strains and phases of vaccination, I think 2021 will be no different from 2020, especially in those countries where retail is an important part of doing business. The retail trade will either remain closed or will receive significantly less traffic compared to 2019.
I think those who are flexible enough and open to change will start investing in online operations. This of course depends on the regulation and infrastructure of certain markets. An alternative solution could be to promote ticket booking applications and convert retail stores into deposit and withdrawal points. Based on the experience of one of our customers who has already taken this approach and is getting good traction, this may be the right approach for retail businesses.
Even after the pandemic is over, people may find it difficult to return to old habits. So I think this is a good time and opportunity (if regulations and infrastructure allow) for operators to start investing in online operations and minimize their reliance on retail. I think this is the right approach in the gaming arena for the years to come as well.
SBC: As early as 2021, did you notice any changes in demand for Singular retail solutions? Are more customers opting for your terminal solutions?
GS: There are currently no significant changes in the demand for our retail solutions from existing or new customers. Two of our existing customers have even postponed the deployment of the SSBT (Terminal) solutions in their retail stores until the end of 2021. Instead, we’re seeing more countries and territories that regulate online sports betting or gaming in general.
Retail-oriented operators are looking for new and innovative online solutions with which they can convert their existing user base into the online domain. In addition, operators who are already in the digital arena are looking for platform vendors who can introduce their brands into newly regulated markets and quickly adapt to regulatory requirements and player preferences unique to those markets in order to increase revenue and scale geographically.
SBC: Do you think that greater use of terminals could ultimately save the sector in countries where online betting is quickly gaining the upper hand? Are we moving in the direction of “cashless” and “staffless” businesses?
GS: It will be very different from country to country depending on their culture. We saw few general patterns from our customers’ experience.
First, it is less convenient for customers to bet on terminals than it is on the over-the-counter market, especially in those countries where users typically bet 10 odds / positions on a single ticket. Second, older users (especially in less tech-savvy countries) have resistance to terminals.
When we offer a mobile experience through a native / web app, users prefer it to terminals. Even if it’s a feature as small as the ticket booking app, they tend to stick with the mobile experience and only use terminals / registers as a means of depositing cash.
When it comes to taking action against COVID-19 and complying with health and safety regulations, using ticket booking apps and checkouts at retail locations just for depositing and withdrawing cash might be a safer choice than terminals. Since users physically interact with terminals, there is no one to maintain hygiene and cleanliness after each use.
I also have to mention that in some countries with high retail volumes, particularly in the African continent, terminals appear to be more expensive and less affordable for operators than hiring shop staff.
With all of these in mind, we believe companies will gradually move to the online domain. Retail stores will play a role in user acquisition and customer trust. Having a physical location where players can interact directly with the company in person plays a crucial role in building trust.
As mentioned earlier, players trust operators with a retail presence more than those who are just online. Apart from that, retail locations can serve as lounges for VIP users or as a place for socializing. This leads to higher brand loyalty among players.
But I have to say again that it will still depend a lot on the country and its culture. In some countries, cashless and staffless retail locations with terminals may be the way to go.
SBC: How important will your ticket booking app be in 2021 when customers may still be concerned about the “over-the-counter experience”?
The ticket booking app recorded steady growth in the number of users even before the pandemic. In 2021, it will be crucial for retail companies to ensure the continuity of their business and offer their users a safe way to bet.
In addition, it can even play an important role as an interim solution in the transition of retail users to the online domain in regions where there are regulations for online operations.
SBC: What’s next for your retail solutions in the face of the seismic shift of gamers towards online?
GS: I’ve always believed that online will take over retail even in countries where retail is dominant. Only if the infrastructure was in place and the players had the experience.
At the same time, however, we see that retail plays a crucial role in the entire value chain. We believe that retail products should be an extension of online products that form a holistic value chain. Users can start playing at a retail location and later continue their experience on the go on their smartphones, and later possibly complete the engagement from the comfort of their home using a desktop or tablet.
Retail is also a place for gamers to socialize and products need to capture this and offer unique social features and experiences that cannot be enjoyed in front of the screen alone. With this approach, retailers can always offer something unique and different that compliments what they have online and creates a holistic experience for players.
We pursue this approach in our product portfolio. So far, it has proven to be correct for our customers. We believe that after all these seismic shifts in retail, it will quickly gain traction.
SBC: Finally, what are your top predictions for 2021? What would you most like to achieve as a company?
GS: Due to the current developments in connection with the pandemic in 2021, at least until the fourth quarter, we do not see any significant changes in the industry. We believe that the growth of online gaming will continue as more retailers will try to strengthen their positions online or initiate the transition to online operations.
At the same time, I believe that if we continue the trend from 2020, we will see the regulation of new territories as a stimulus for the economy. The general outlook for the gambling industry is pretty good as activities tend to be geared towards online operations.
All of these changes in the industry, such as retailers looking forward to investing more in online activities and new areas that are regulated, have generated tremendous demand for our omnichannel platforms for iGaming and sports betting. For us, 2021 will focus on harnessing and meeting all of these growing needs and revenue streams.