COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work forever. The pandemic has heightened the need for businesses across the board to create digital strategies that afford more prominence to the role e-Commerce plays within their operations. The various lockdowns — on top of people being more afraid to spend excessive time in indoor spaces — has led to the soaring popularity of online shopping to levels that nobody could have predicted eighteen months ago.
With vaccinations now open to all adults in South Africa, and everyone starting to look towards post-pandemic life for the first time, companies in various sectors are looking to incorporate e-Commerce more formally into their broader digital strategies. No longer brushed off as a contributor to the decline of physical retail, e-Commerce has quickly turned into a must-have in order for businesses to remain viable and competitive in the long run.
The Rise of e-Commerce in South Africa
Electronic shopping has been around from as far back as 1979, when English inventor Michael Aldrich used a telephone connection to facilitate and process a transaction across a PC and a modified television. Technology has come a very long way in the four decades since, and the birth of the internet (alongside the death of the dial-up connection) has meant that modern businesses are able to sell and be more connected to their customers now than ever before.
e-Commerce has had a relatively slow start in South Africa, primarily due to low penetration of broadband internet and unusually high mobile data costs. From the humble beginnings of Kalahari.net (who can forget their striking early advertising campaigns?) to it transforming into the tech giant that is now TakeAlot.com, things have come a long way in recent years. The growing nature of an e-Commerce staple like BidorBuy, or even a newer commercial player like Everyshop, showcases some of its potential in the local market. South Africa is currently one of the Top 40 largest eCommerce markets in the world, with revenues hitting $4 billion in 2020.
Pivoting To Online Sales Platforms
Many well established companies had to scramble to move their operations online when the pandemic first hit. Those that were already working towards establishing online revenue streams had a definite head start which in some cases helped them to end up leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors.
Checkers Sixty60 is a good example of this, and has exploded in popularity thanks to their diverse catalogue of products and the promise of delivery within 60 minutes. Most of their competitors are still trying to reach the same capabilities so it’s not difficult to imagine that Checkers is on track to outlast these lagging operations once retail shopping truly becomes a thing of the past.
Prioritising Digital: Woolworths Recruitment Drive
Key retail players are starting to prioritise their digital strategies in ways that weren’t happening before the pandemic. Supermarket giant Woolworths recently announced that they are hiring 100 tech specialists to assist with evolving their updated digital strategy. The expansion has quite predictably come about in response to the significant changes in South Africa’s retail sector, and the realisation that their customers now have needs they might not have had before March 2020.
Expanding Digital Strategy Post-COVID
Businesses of all types — from yoga studios pivoting to selling online courses, all the way through to niche stores offering additional incentives to their existing customer base — will need to open their minds to a digital strategy that embraces e-Commerce to stay competitive moving into the future. It’s not enough to bank on social media campaigns with a bit of PPC spend. Customer retention now has everything to do with the online shopping experience, as well as what people are telling their friends and family about the experience shortly after.
How South African Consumers Engage with e-Commerce
Knowing how to most effectively incorporate e-Commerce into digital strategy requires considering how South Africans are engaging with e-Commerce platforms as a whole. Early indicators suggest that South Africans readily use e-Commerce platforms to compare prices before buying any big ticket items. Irrespective of time spent researching, there is a tendency for consumers to visit their preferred store in person to see and touch the item before making the call to buy it.
This has levelled the playing field in many ways, allowing businesses of all sizes to be considered as a potential “store of choice” for consumers. A good SEO strategy and decent PPC campaigns offer impressive visibility to smaller players that would have been ignored in physical retail. This makes companies like Superbalist and OneDayOnly competitive with old school retail giants like Makro and Game. An e-Commerce start-up like Superbalist proves this point, and is already on course for a staggering R1 billion in private-label sales in the next few years.
Standalone e-Commerce: A Storefront Skeleton
While it isn’t difficult to incorporate the idea of e-Commerce into a business (setting up an online store has never been easier), it’s important to remember that without a detailed plan it will always remain just a digital storefront for the business. Launching the store doesn’t mean that anybody is going to use it. Businesses will have to remember to redirect at least a fraction of marketing spend towards growing this segment of operations, as otherwise any efforts might end up falling on deaf ears. The bottom line is that if consumers don’t know about a platform, it’s highly likely that nobody is going to use it.
A Media Strategy Bringing e-Commerce To Life
There’s truth in the saying that great platforms are easy to advertise. Companies should therefore start by making sure that their e-Commerce initiatives are user-friendly, well thought out and easy to engage with. From there, goals should align with avoiding falling into the void of online stores that are hoping to piggyback on organic social media promotion. A formal media strategy — especially one that is integrated and takes into account the other facets of operations — can mean the difference between long-term success or instant failure. All promotional elements should be pointing towards a united goal, creating the biggest possible footprint and giving even uncertain customers no doubt that they should be giving online buying a go.
The MediaHeads 360 team are specialists in this, creating actionable campaigns that incorporate international trends, factor in changing consumer habits, and consider all promotional angles and how they can potentially complement each other. Individual attention is paid to the specific needs of the business and its customers, as well as a deep dive into potential opportunities for generating additional revenue in the future. Our campaigns are designed to give e-Commerce the prominence it deserves in a way that benefits all other marketing tenets at the same time.
Although there is most likely to be more curveballs like the pandemic for businesses to contend with in future, an effective digital strategy incorporating e-Commerce more holistically will help to mitigate risk, as well as buy time for businesses to tweak their strategies in a bid to minimise the overall effect on operations.
If resilience is the order of the day in modern business, embracing e-Commerce is one of the best ways to start nudging operations in the direction of long-term viability and sustainability.