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Online shopping in SA slowly beginning to take off

Online shopping in South Africa is a nascent industry‚ but one with plenty of room for growth. That’s the result of a recent global survey from Nielsen‚ the market research company. The survey was conducted in 63 countries and included a subset of results from South Africa.

The findings paint a picture of consumers who do not buy online often but are open to it and points to rising connectivity as a reason for attractive growth prospects for online retail in the country. Only 3% of respondents say they buy online “regularly”.

The most common online purchases included travel arrangements‚ event tickets‚ books and fashion.

One category South African businesses hope to exploit is online grocery shopping.

Online grocery shopping has long been thought of as the holy grail of e-commerce and online giants such as Amazon have tried and mostly failed so far in their efforts to capture the lucrative food industry.

However‚ 40% of South Africans surveyed said they are not currently buying groceries online but would consider it.

According to Julie-Anne Walsh‚ head of marketing at Takealot‚ a popular online seller‚ the penetration of e-commerce in South Africa is only about 1% of the total retail market. In the US and China that figure is 13% and 15%‚ respectively.

She said that although no one knows what the potential ceiling is for South Africa’s e-commerce activity‚ the gap that exists between South Africa’s market and that in other countries presents an opportunity for many businesses.

“In South Africa’s favour is our youthful demographics and significant country-wide mobile usage‚ making mobile and app shopping a crucial focus for growth in South African retail‚” she said.

Liz Hillock‚ head of online at Woolworths‚ agrees that the increasing prevalence of mobile users is an area where businesses can capitalise.

She said more than half of the traffic to Woolworths website is from customers browsing on their mobile phones.

The company has made a concerted push towards online in recent years‚ including a dedicated warehouse to improve availability of Woolworths fashion products online‚ and Hillock described sales for both online food and fashion divisions as “strong”.

Walsh points to the success of Black Friday shopping in South Africa as an indication there is still much room to grow.

Takealot was one of the first companies making an effort in South Africa to promote the shopping holiday‚ which is popular in the United States. Takealot’s first Black Friday was in 2011 and the company has increased its sales over fiftyfold since then. Sales last year were R56m‚ a greater than 50% improvement on the previous year and Walsh said she expects the company to again grow its sales by 50% again this year.

-TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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