Back in March 2020 when lockdown struck there were understandable restrictions put in place that could best be summed up as “essentials only”.
Whether it was work or shopping, if it wasn’t classified as essential by the government, it wasn’t allowed to operate.
However, these restrictions meant that ecommerce platforms couldn’t operate without a permit and even then, these restrictions meant that many products couldn’t be sold.
At the time we were told that this was done in an effort to reduce the movement of people which makes sense given that we didn’t know what we were facing as regards COVID-19.
But now as we look back on 2020 it’s clear that ecommerce has been the unsung hero of the pandemic. We say that because many SMEs would not be around today if not for ecommerce.
Last year was very much what we’d call the blossoming of ecommerce locally, now we need rapid growth.
Is ecommerce worth it?
The obvious answer to the above is yes, but the actual answer is a bit more nuanced.
Yes, ecommerce is a great way to open your retail store to a wider audience but doing so without considering the entire value chain can be costly.
Aside from obvious costs like courier fees, one needs to maintain the ecommerce platform you are using, there are customer service portals that need to be maintained and then one needs to consider how payments will be made.
The decision to lean into ecommerce then is not an overnight one.
But when it comes to whether it’s worth it, if you can afford to spend time and money on ecommerce, the answer is yes.
Director for CM.com in Sub-Saharan Africa, James Bayhack told us earlier this year that the firm expects ecommerce in South Africa to grow by as much as 10 percent year on year.
FNB meanwhile reported a massive spike in ecommerce during the first six months of 2020.
This isn’t even taking into account the value of being able to do business when physical stores are closed.
Just like the web gave businesses with a website an edge, having an online store is that equivalent today in South Africa.
Where to sell
As we’ve outlined above, ecommerce can be complex and thankfully there are ways of participating in the sphere without having to develop a platform yourself.
For one you can make use of marketplaces. The biggest and most popular is Takealot. Using a marketplace such as Takealot gives you a wider audience although you are also competing with other firms for business.
For those who want to maintain control, there are ecommerce platforms you can migrate to as Shopify and WooCommerce. These platforms take much of the guess work out of creating an online store and make it easier for you to work on your business.
Another where to consider as regards ecommerce is where shoppers are going.
Circling back to CM.com, its research found that 46 percent of ecommerce traffic comes from mobile, 25 percent from desktop PCs and notebooks while just 9 percent comes from tablets.
When building your solution out be aware of the above as a bad experience is likely to push customers away or to competition.
The customer and the community
“The customer is always right” might’ve lost its meaning over the years for good reason but the value of having a properly functioning ecommerce solution cannot be overstated.
Customers may forgive one or two hitches in the shopping experience but when it comes to checkout, that experience can make or break you.
“The impact of a bad payment experience can be devastating. When a shopper abandons an online shopping cart due to checkout friction, the data shows that 67% end up leaving for a competitor or never complete the purchase anywhere, and 59% say they are less likely to shop with that same retailer again,” country manager for Visa South Africa, Aldo Laubscher told us earlier this year.
As for community, this year we stumbled across something incredible.
That is the Insaka eCommerce Community – South Africa.
This Facebook group is 17.2K members strong and those members are incredibly active. Questions are asked and answered seemingly immediately and the business owners come from a variety of backgrounds.
If there was one thing we would recommend for SMEs building out an ecommerce solution, it’s joining this group.
Learn from Checkers
Earlier this year we wrote about how Checkers had almost nailed the ecommerce experience and six months later it has now nailed it.
Delivering groceries in under 60 minutes is a big task yes but it should be the gold standard for all ecommerce in South Africa.
We can abide by a day in some areas but Checkers has shown that the delay of deliveries is not necessary.
Of course this requires a network of couriers that are able to facilitate those deliveries but with joblessness at an all-time high perhaps it’s worth looking at how we stimulate that sector in the next 12 months.
The Checkers solution is not only about delivery though, the entire experience is brilliant.
Replacement products can be pre-selected or chosen while products are being shopped. Deliveries can be tracked and drivers can be tipped. Product offerings are updated constantly and customer service at the Checkers contact centre is fantastic.
We know that many stores offer deliveries in some way but Checkers has knocked it out of the park and we believe it’s how ecommerce should be done.
There are 12 months ahead of us and while COVID-19 rages on around us some businesses may be forced to shutter. Before that happens consider how ecommerce could benefit your business, we reckon it’s a fantastic investment.
[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]