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Ecommerce in South Africa – a growing movement

By Anna Malczyk and Lyndi Lawson-Smith

Ecommerce in South Africa faces many challenges. From the consumer perspective, these include reluctance to pay delivery costs, confusion around payment and the need for a credit card, security, and the ability to return items or get money refunded.

The reality from the ecommerce providers’ perspective is that many of their sites are inadequate in addressing these issues, but also add the burden of poor usability. Given that many major retailers haven’t yet gotten this right, there is little example for small business owners and entrepreneurs to follow.

And even in the cases where a good example exists, the barriers to entry from a skills perspective are huge. In an economy that, with few exceptions, follows the tech trends of developed countries and with consumers demonstrating readiness for ecommerce solutions, it is time that we changed that.

Education as a solution
We need to offer individuals skills development opportunities and provide the potential to gain employment, but we also have a responsibility to give small business owners the tools to take their offerings online, with a proper understanding of how to set up and run an online business. Ideally, we also need to make it easier for employers to find and retain good talent. We also, of course, have a transformation prerogative and we have an obligation to accelerate our progress.

So, what do we need?

First off, we need some scale. The challenges that we’re facing can’t be solved by producing an annual elite class of 10 or 15 ecommerce specialists. We need to create a sustainable mechanism for creating talent and feeding it into the sectors in the industry where it is needed, while at the same time ensuring that the talent we produce has the opportunity to keep learning while they accumulate industry experience.

Secondly, we need a range of entry points into skills development programmes. There is no point in flooding the market with junior ecommerce practitioners. Similarly, this does not account for existing skills and experience. So the learning opportunities that we create need to cater to multiple entry and exit points.

Thirdly, the same applies to the range of learning outcomes that we include: we need generalists, capable of starting a small online business. We need specialists, in everything from usability design to product distribution. This will enable us to feed the industry as a whole – the development agencies who are building and customising ecommerce platforms, the large retailers with multi-faceted teams and the small business owner who wants to scale his or her audience.

  • Rowan Maher

    I have been reading a couple articles on Ventureburn and
    there seems to be a trend in the comments of these articles ‘rushed & not
    researched’ and I must say that this one is no different.

    In fact most of this article is not even remotely accurate
    and you guys at Ventureburn should be more accountable when it comes to publishing

    Addressing the article itself….

    This article would’ve probably been relevant back in 2008
    but in 2015.

    With regards to the many challenges comments – Delivery
    costs are generally accepted as the norm and most online merchants offer free
    delivery above a certain threshold, there is only a reluctance from the
    consumer if the delivery charges are obscene, which is not the case most of the
    time. Confusion around payment? What are you talking about? – most merchants
    now offer a multitude of payment options and although credit cards are the most
    prevalent payment methods they most definitely aren’t needed… Security, what exactly
    are you referring to here? Because security is paramount for the payment
    gateways that most of the merchants make use of and generally the ecommerce
    platform used are fairly secure as well. Most online stores have return
    policies in place which work fairly well (the only real headache is the
    couriers at times). From the refunds perspective, this is generally managed
    pretty well by the payment gateways since there are risks involved for all
    parties (buyer, merchant & payment provider).

    When you talk about sites being inadequate, not addressing
    issues and suffering from poor usability…which merchants & sites are you
    referring to? Most of the merchants will use ecommerce platforms such as
    Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce, Prestashop…etc. Barring Magento (which most of
    the bigger guys will use because it’s robust and heavily customisable – but requires
    a tonne of dev), these sites offer world class templates that require little or
    no development skill, they follow the latest best practice, including
    responsive design and offer comprehensive support.

    And the barriers to entry that you refer to are not HUGE, in
    fact the biggest barrier to entry is probably whether or not you have a product
    to sell! And just to be clear, most of the solutions that are available for start-ups
    & SMEs in “developed countries” are also available here and amply cater for
    users with little or no technical knowledge or ecommerce experience. In fact
    many platforms were designed with this type of user in mind, so I don’t know
    what required “change” you’re talking about.

    The only point that I do agree with you on is EDUCATION, but
    not in the manner that you are referring to, since this is not a social
    development issue. The education should start with information resources like
    you actually doing research and not providing and potentially discouraging
    people with misinformation. You should at the very least provide the public
    with accurate & well written content.

    There are already meetups, workshops, events, groups and so
    on from here to wazoo all talking about ecommerce and their respective
    platforms, and this is steadily growing…you just need to do a little bit of
    research to find them.

    The ecommerce platforms that users will more than likely
    make use of generally offer fantastic support, have comprehensive information
    repositories to help with all aspects of setting up and running an ecommerce
    store. If that is not enough they also have active communities that also more
    than adequately provide assistance when needed.

    When you talk about “what we need” you do realise that these
    things take time and that you’re a little behind where we actually are here in

    It terms of scale, we’re getting there, but you’re summation
    of 10-15 specialists being produced each year is grossly inaccurate considering
    that ecommerce should do between R6-7 billion this year.

    Beyond that point the rest of your article is useless, inaccurate
    (again) and amounts too little more than fluff, much like a politicians words.
    Telling us all what we need, whether actually needed or not, not offering a solution
    or any tangible explanation as to how these so called “needs” will be

    In future rather chat to and/or get content from industry
    players and experts, so that the content published is both accurate and

    • ecommerce isn’t rocket science.

      It basically just boils down being able to offer customers they items they want, at a
      price they find acceptable enough to part with their hard earned cash.

      The hardest part if getting people to trust your site enough to make purchases from it.
      This is where site design, word of mouth and marketing come into play.

      This does take time and expertise to get right, but I agree even the smaller players can
      compete with the big boys if they are suave enough.

  • IMT

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