Thoughts on the future of eCommerce in South Africa

There is so much uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen; so any predictions I make here must be taken with a pinch of salt, in my case an optimistic pinch.

Yes, I am an optimist; I choose to live in hope, finding the brighter side of a dark and troubled time. This thought piece is no different.

History shows us that pandemics change things radically. We can already see this in our changing behaviours. We have become obsessively germ conscious in our efforts to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading this new virus. We are more aware than ever before of the toxic influence of fake news, and many of us are calling people out on it. We are seeking more truth, meaning and authenticity. Socialising won’t be the same for a long time, as we tentatively emerge from our homes; wary, vulnerable, hopeful and grateful. There are seismic shifts happening in all social, political and economic systems across the world. Many of us have slowed down (although not those of us with kids at home!). We have begun to question our leaders and our ways of living, we have begun to deeply realise our effect on the world. Many of us have started to live more compassionately and take action; we can no longer ignore the suffering and inequality around us.

I could go on. This is an interesting time to be alive in, and we are being asked to embrace uncertainty and change.

How does this affect eCommerce in South Africa?

The first major shift that is taking place in South Africa’s eCommerce landscape is that more people are getting comfortable with the idea of online shopping. This is especially the case with online grocery shopping, which has clearly seen a big increase over the last few weeks. As with other behaviours, the way we shop is changing rapidly; shopping malls might not ever be the same again as more of us get accustomed to staying home and ordering online. Ecommerce is going to grow much faster because of Covid-19.

The second shift: For many retailers now, eCommerce is a matter of survival; they are going to have to evolve and start trading online if they are going to survive. Their customers will expect it. Quite frankly, if your business does not have any plans to develop eCommerce functionality, it is at risk of being left behind in the rapid changes taking place.

I have already seen an increase in client enquiries for eCommerce websites and I’m currently working on 5 different online stores that will be launching soon. There’s never been a better moment to invest in eCommerce.

But what about demand?

Back to that bit about being an optimist. I believe the effects of this pandemic will be sharp and revolutionary, but not apocalyptic. There is light on the horizon. Our economy will adapt and recover. Demand will rise. Don’t be frozen by the fear that everything will fall apart. Forward-thinking companies see opportunities. Forward-thinking, adaptable companies take action and survive.

But things are going to be different…

The third shift: People are becoming more conscious, responsible and thoughtful buyers. They are going to want to support small, local, ethical businesses. They’re not going to waste their money on frivolous, badly-made useless junk (drop shippers beware).

As we question the ways of the world, so we begin to question what we truly need, want and value; and this affects the sorts of products we buy into and the brands we support. Retailers are going to need to take a deep hard look at the sort of business they’re operating (its environmental and social impact) and the products they’re selling. It’s time for every single one of us to play our part in making this world better, and that includes businesses of every size. Are you ready to evolve?

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