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Getting ecommerce site mobile-ready can beat loadshedding

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The Online Retail in South Africa 2019 research study by World Wide Worx and Platinum Seed reports that online retail growth continues on a steep trajectory. In the forward to the report, Visa points out that South African digital commerce is growing at an impressive four times the rate of traditional commerce and mobile commerce at a whopping eight times. 

While many businesses are making the transition to online commerce, far too few recognise the importance of ensuring their offering is mobile friendly. This could not only potentially cut themselves off from a significant section of their market, but also mean they miss out on the chance to secure their business against external threat like loadshedding. 

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The prospect of  further load shedding continues to cast a pall over South Africa’s economy. In its April Monetary Policy Review, the Reserve Bank warned that power cuts through the rest of 2019 could slash economic growth by as much as 1.1% (with its latest review now indicating the economy’s potential growth rate has slumped to around 1%). And with Eskom set to lose more than a quarter of its current generating capacity in the next decade as ageing plants are shut down, power scarcity is here to stay. 

The continuing uncertainty has many businesses making alternative plans, with solar panels and diesel generators selling out around the country. But, according to Brendon Williamson, chief sales officer at Paygate, A DPO Company, companies with an online presence should also be making the most of mobility as a bulwark against losses due to loadshedding. 

“There are three distinct ways loadshedding can affect an online business,” says Williamson. “First of all, a power failure can take down host servers; but this is such an obvious risk we’d be very surprised to find a hosting service that isn’t already robustly protected. The other risks are more pressing: power outages to your offices mean your employees are unable to work or respond to customer queries for hours at a time; and if customers don’t have power, they may be unable to access your site anyway.”

Ensuring websites are properly mobile-responsive can mitigate these risks and enable businesses to keep trading through blackouts, says Williamson. “South Africans are careful to keep their cellphones charged, and many now carry backup power packs,” he says. “If your website is easy to navigate on a mobile phone, your customers can continue to shop even when there is load shedding. In fact, we’ve already noticed some kinds of mobile commerce booming during power cuts, especially food delivery services like UberEats. A lot more people are also ordering their groceries online, rather than take the risk of being stuck in a dark store when loadshedding hits.”

“The most critical step is to make sure your site is using a mobile-friendly ecommerce plugin,” says Williamson. “A surprising number of online businesses are easy enough to browse casually, but fail when it comes to checkout and payment. Making it as easy as possible for customers to pay using their mobile phones is probably the single most valuable change website owners could make right now.”

Williamson says it’s important to consider and test every step of the customer journey with multiple test customers, using multiple devices. “For example, filling out credit card details on a mobile phone is slow and annoying, enough to put many customers off. Using a card tokenization process to store credit card details securely for repeat customers cuts the drudgery. Site owners should also consider adding payment options like SiD (Secure Internet Deposit) for customers without credit cards, if they haven’t already.”

Mobility using a combination of smartphones, laptops and mobile data can also help development and customer service teams alike stay online through outages, adds Williamson. “Being online for customer support is particularly important during load shedding, when people are likely to be more stressed than usual and perhaps trying your site for the first time. If your business is able to respond quickly and appropriately when people need it, this is an opportunity to build a loyal customer base.”

Investments in customer experience will continue to bear fruit long after load shedding ends, concludes Williamson. “The value of online sales in South Africa is predicted to pass R14bn by the end of this year, approaching 2% of total retail sales. That’s still a small base, but it means the potential for growth is enormous, provided online retailers can deliver a great customer experience. A mobile site that’s fast, data-efficient and easy to use, especially for those with more basic smartphones, will be well positioned for future growth.”

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