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Why SA companies should be focusing on mCommerce

Technology has transformed consumers’ lives, with shopping centres and the opportunities to spend now being brought to your PC, tablet and even your phone. With eCommerce on the increase in South Africa, such as with the latest online retail offerings by the popular fashion house, Mr Price, as well as Zando — the online-only shopping site with international roots — companies’ chances to leverage these opportunities online are growing.

Not surprisingly however, according the Boston Consulting Group, a report published earlier this year, shows that SA’s eCommerce offering was growing at a surprisingly slower rate (12.6%) than the average for developing nations (17.8%). The report predicts that online purchasing would account for 1.5% of all retail shopping in South Africa by 2016.

A few years ago, eCommerce was nowhere in South Africa. People were shopping on the international site Amazon.com, only because nothing similar was available in South Africa. Now with shops like Zando, Mr Price, Yuppie Chef, Banks Kitchen Boutique and Takealot, things are taking off. The fact that there are competitors in different market segments online means that the consumer has more options, and that this space is growing fast. With South Africa’s average consumer download speed estimated to be at 3.54 megabits per second, there no doubt that we will see a flurry of online retailers setting up shop in the months to come.

However, we have a long way to go in terms of giving the consumer the best user experience possible. Many online retailers are simply not delivering on the consumer’s buying experience, with site design being either confusing, boring, difficult to navigate, or lacking in aesthetic quality. It is no longer enough just to be seen in the online retail space, companies now have to give users a great shopping experience in order to stay ahead.

That which is going to make a difference to a customer’s choice of which site to use, will be ease of navigation and a clear, open site, which will allow the customer to find and select products easily. It is important to make it stress-free for the customer to find more information about the product, as well as to compare it to other products. Then it has to be simple for the customer to put the items in a shopping basket and check out. A shopping experience that is enjoyable, incorporates an easy-to-use design, as well as an experience that is going to compare favourably to the consumer’s off-line experience in a physical store, will ultimately be the site that wins the competitive advantage.

Only a few stores in South Africa are getting it right. Both Mr Price and Banks Kithcen Boutique boast a catalog of over 16,000 items, and online shoppers can choose by size, colour, brand and even trend, with a range of delivery options. Then there are eCommerce reward and loyalty programmes that are also growing fast, such as that of FNB’s eBucks initiative, which sees joint-offerings with partner sites, such as that of YuppieChef, the online kitchen store, as well as Zando. These value-added offerings make it easier for the customer to have a richer eCommerce experience.

It is clear that South Africa is ready for technologically-advanced eCommerce offerings. However, low broadband access and a lack of affordable devices to access the internet has contributed to low online retail statistics. Where South African retailers should be, in addition to eCommerce, is the mobile space that is, mCommerce. About 42.3 million mobile phones have been recorded in South Africa, with more than 59 million active SIM cards. It is imperative then that retailers who have an advanced online offering, always offer a similar mobile experience as this is where they should probably expect the majority of their South African shoppers to shop.

Cellphone banking on the other hand has become as easy, if not easier, than its online equivalent. If companies are to leverage all opportunities that eCommerce has to offer, they will soon take their cue from the banks in this country, and grasp the unique opportunities presented by the mCommerce space.