South Africans have been reluctant to throw themselves into online shopping – and government has bizarrely limited ecommerce due to a belief that it would represent unfair competition. Many of us would rather spend a leisurely Saturday wandering through shopping malls and buying on whim, but the Covid-19 coronavirus has forced essential businesses to offer delivery options and pushed consumers to buy online.
Despite government still being oblivious to its role in maintaining social distancing, businesses that never considered an ecommerce platform necessary are now scrambling to position themselves for a delivery-centred retail reality.
This need not be an intimidating transition, says Warrick Kernes, founder of the Insaka eCommerce Academy.
“The monumental shifts we are seeing around the world as a result of the coronavirus have proved a game changer for the eCommerce sector,” he says. “So many industries are struggling, but ours is not. Ours is the solution.”
Kernes, who founded the Action Gear online store in 2010 and sold the venture in 2018, has over the years, through his academy, taught thousands of South Africans how to start, grow and scale their own ecommerce businesses.
He predicts that under government’s necessary, but challenging, five-level lockdown exit strategy, ecommerce will be the fastest way to inject life back into the thousands of small businesses that are now tittering on the brink of bankruptcy.
“The sooner we allow delivery sales – not only online sales, but also email and telephone orders – the better,” he says. “This would enable these companies to carry on with business, to pay their staff and get the economy working again.”
Kernes warns, however, about regarding an ecommerce strategy as simply a band-aid which can be discarded when the current crisis ends.
“This really is a seminal moment for ecommerce and for the industry,” he says. “The secret is to position your business to take advantage of the exponential acceleration in ecommerce over the long term.”
For two decades ecommerce has thrived despite facing some significant challenges, something which Alibaba founder Jack Ma discussed during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in 2018: “For the past 20 years, with poor logistics, terrible payments, terrible connection of the internet in the world, astute ecommerce has grown like this [gestures up],” said Ma. “My belief is that ecommerce is the future, and [that] eCommerce is going to replace a lot of traditional ways of doing business.”
Kernes is already preparing for a world beyond Covid-19.
“It will take a while for South Africans to settle fully into the post-Covid-19 era, but when we do, ecommerce will be far more integrated into our day-to-day lives than it is currently,” he says. “For a long time, online shopping has been regarded by many as a novelty, or something we dabble in on occasion, but in the “new normal” online shopping will be the norm. We will undoubtedly see far more people shopping by ecommerce in the months and years to come. It is important to note that the growth of ecommerce in South Africa would, ultimately, have seen us reach this point, but Covid-19 has certainly accelerated what will be a boom in online retail.“
South Africa was already hovering around an ecommerce surge before the coronavirus pandemic, having passed the R14 billion mark – or 1.4% of total retail sales – in 2018, according to World Wide Worx’s Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study. With online sales growing at around 20-35% annually, it was projected then that the 2% mark would be reached by 2022. Even before the coronavirus effect, Statista Market Forecast was projecting that 2020 would be a key year for South African online sales, with expectations of the market hitting R60-billion in sales.
“As things stand, the South African ecommerce space has just been accelerated by two to three years,” says Kernes. “Right now, for anyone who has been retrenched, for professionals looking to set up a secondary income, for stay-at-home mothers looking to create an income source or any South African with a drive to succeed, the ecommerce space is hugely exciting.”
Jonathan Smit, MD of online payment solution PayFast, agrees that ecommerce will continue to be an exciting place for a long time to come.
“The impact of the lockdown and the anticipated lengthy return to ‘normal’ are going to fundamentally change the way many people shop,” says Smit. “Businesses have to adapt and embrace ecommerce either as a sole distribution channel or to augment their existing physical channels.”
To help any would-be ecommerce entrepreneur to find their feet in this new space, PayFast and other leaders in the ecommerce space have partnered with the Insaka eCommerce Academy to host the free PayFast eCommerce Virtual Summit from 25-28 May 2020 to share essential information, tips and strategies.
To register, visit: https://www.insaka.co.za/ecommerce-virtual-summit-sa-2020