DURBAN – South Africans have been reluctant to throw themselves into online shopping.
Many of us would rather spend a leisurely Saturday wandering through shopping malls and buying on whim, but Covid-19 has forced essential businesses to offer delivery options and pushed consumers to buy online.
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 said 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. So many industries are struggling, but ours is not. Ours is the solution,” said Kernes.
Kernes, who founded the award-winning Action Gear online store in 2010 and sold the venture in 2018, is South Africa’s go-to guy when it comes to establishing a successful eCommerce platform. Over the years his academy has 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,” said Kernes.
Kernes warns, however, about regarding an eCommerce strategy as simply a band-aid which can be discarded when the current crisis ends.
He said, “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,” Ma said at the time.
South Africa was already hovering around an eCommerce surge before the coronavirus pandemic, having passed the R14 billion mark – or 1.4 percent 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 percent annually, it was projected then that the 2 percent 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. 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,” said Kernes.
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. Businesses have to adapt and embrace eCommerce either as a sole distribution channel or to augment their existing physical channels,” said Smit.