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The Department of Marketing and Retail Management of the Faculty of Management Sciences hosted a webinar titled: The Marketing and Retail Landscape since the emergence of COVID-19, via Microsoft Teams recently.

The first guest speaker at the webinar was Professor Thomas Dobbelstein, a Professor for Market Research and Retailing at Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Ravensburg where he also served as the Vice-President for five years.

Prof Dobbelstein is a member of the supervisory board at Privalor AG advisory council at 9 levels institute for value systems, Johannioter Unfallhilfe. He enjoys strong ties with DUT and the Department of Marketing and Retail Management at DUT, serving as an Honorary Professor and spending time in the Department at least once a year for the past 15 years, with many staff members and students benefitting from his sage advice. In recent years, he has also served on the advisory board for the new DUT Business School.

His presentation was titled: German and South African millennials’ reactions to fear and stress when purchasing products during COVID-19. It focused on the research objective and methodology, change of shopping behaviour during different stages of COVID-19, reasons for the change of shopping behaviour during different stages of the pandemic, the influence of COVID-19 specific personality traits, the influence of general personality traits and recommendations, going forward.

In terms of the problem definition and objective, Prof Dobbelstein, said that the COVID-19 pandemic came suddenly and unexpectedly and is the biggest life threatening health crisis in recent history.

“Comparable to a natural disaster, during COVID-19, people’s buying behaviour might be driven by fear, uncertainty and stress leading to mass buying behaviour and stockpiling of certain products. This research sets out to analyse the influence of those emotions and additional personality traits on the buying behaviour of Generation Y in Germany and South Africa. The sample includes residents of Germany and South Africa who were born between 1980 and 2002 and have access to the internet,” he said.

He explained more on the problem structuring, collection method and instruments, the timeline of the lockdown in Germany and South Africa as well as the quota controls, both in Germany and South Africa.

Prof Dobbelstein relayed on the change of buying behaviour in the different stages of COVID-19 in Germany and South Africa, compared to the usual shopping behaviour, how much more or less food and groceries were bought before, during and after the lockdown.

“In both countries, more was generally purchased, although in South Africa significantly more than in Germany. The volume of purchases in both countries is declining throughout the course of the pandemic,” he stressed.

A key aspect he gave more insight into was the dimensions of COVID-19, specific personality traits such as the differences regarding the effects of COVID-19 between the countries, saying that most striking point were that participants in South Africa were more afraid of getting ill than German participants, plus they (South Africans) have a lower income because of COVID-19.

In his conclusion and recommendation, Prof Dobbelstein encouraged the online audience to further read the Retail and Marketing Review: Special Covid Edition: Vol 16 Issue 3 (2020) p. 66 – 82.

Adding to the conversation was Dr Wasim Ahmed, a lecturer in Digital Business. His PhD involved completing an internship at Manchester United Football Club. Dr Ahmed also holds an MSc in Information Systems and a BA (Hons) degree in Philosophy from the University of Sheffield.

His research and teaching interests include digital business, digital sport, and digital health. He completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield, and his thesis examined the role of social media during infectious disease outbreaks. Dr Ahmed has held previous employment at the University of Sheffield, Northumbria University, and Newcastle University. Dr Ahmed has authored a number of peer reviewed outputs and has delivered many external talks including a number of prestigious invited lectures, seminars, and workshops around the world.

His talk pertained to the marketing tactics employed by COVID-19 disinformation networks. He shared about the COVID-19 misinformation in the media most common coronavirus conspiracies such as miracle cures, new world order, democratic party hoax and bat soup, to name a few. He indicated that in social media, social network analysis is useful for identifying influential users, key groups that form around topics as well as highlighting popular information sources. He shared about the various tools used for social network analysis such as Gephi, iGraph, UCINET and NodeXL. Dr Ahmed looked at the 5G and COVID-19 conspiracy theory on Twitter.

He relayed some recommendations, saying that one method of counteracting fake news is to be able to detect it rapidly and address it head-on at the time that it occurs.

“In the specific influencer analysis (in the User Analysis section), there was a lack of an authority figure who was actively combating such misinformation. This study found that a dedicated individual Twitter account set up to spread the conspiracy theory formed a cluster in the network with 408 other Twitter users. This account, at the time of analysis, had managed to send a total of 303 tweets during this specific time period before it was closed down by Twitter. In hindsight, if this account would have been closed down much sooner, this would have halted the spread of this specific conspiracy theory. Moreover, if other users who were sharing humorous content and link baiting the hashtag refrained from tweeting about the topic and instead reported conspiracy-related tweets to Twitter, the hashtag would not have reached trending status on Twitter,” he said.

Dr Ahmed stressed that as more users began to tweet using the hashtag, the overall visibility increased.
“Public health authorities may wish to advise citizens against resharing or engaging with misinformation on social media and encourage users to flag them as inappropriate to the social media companies. Many social media platforms provide users with the ability to report inappropriate content,” he said.

Dr Ahmed also spoke on identifying bots and the wider impacts.
“Disinformation campaigns may distort public opinion and lead to some developing anti-lockdown/anti-vaccine beliefs. It is likely to impact case-levels and leading to future restrictions and shut-down of retail and leisure venues. Also, rumours that certain retail outlets were considering the implementation of ‘vaccine passports’ were met with threats of boycotts on social media,” he said.

The last presentation at the webinar was delivered by Mr Virgil Vandayar, a Learning and Development Manager for a large home-grown South African retailer, and is also the founder of a start-up called the Curious Kettle. He is also the Chairperson of the Durban University of Technology Retail Advisory Board, sharing his learnings during the pandemic.

His presentation was titled: Curiosity did not kill the cat. There were also presentations by postgraduate students, Nancy Kiliswa, who spoke on her current research on leveraging on customer experience in a post COVID-19 world, as well as Tafadzwa Ndadziyira, whose current research entails changes in consumer behavioural trends during COVID-19 pandemic: A case of South African consumers.

Giving his appreciation to the speakers was Professor Jeeva Govender, who is an Associate Professor in the Department and holds a PhD in Marketing. He heads the Department of Marketing and Retail Management in the Faculty of Management Sciences. He has been involved in teaching at an undergraduate level, but with a focus on post-graduate studies. He has several Masters and Doctoral graduates. In addition, he has presented extensively at international conferences and has many journal article publications to his credit. His focus areas include relationship marketing, green marketing and services marketing.

Prof Govender acknowledged and gave his gratitude to the various key speakers and role-players in the webinar, especially the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management Sciences, Prof Fulufhelo Netswera for initiating and promoting the idea of departmental webinars.

“It has been very well actioned by Dr Emem Anwana, the Faculty Research Coordinator. Despite us being in the midst of a pandemic, we do not seize to share our research and research ideas and this is important because traditionally face-to face interaction was perceived to be the only that scholars could meet. The webinar had an interesting slant in the sense that we had an academic perspective, we had a practitioner perspective as well as a developmental perspective whereby our emerging researchers in the department were able to share their research ideas. We had an international, national and regional insight into the COVID pandemic and how it has unfolded in terms of its in influence on retail,” said Prof Govender.

This was followed by a question and answer session and the vote of thanks given by Dr Mandusha Maharaj.

Pictured: One of the guest speakers, Professor Thomas Dobbelstein, at the webinar.

Waheeda Peters

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