Mobile set to impact SA e-commerce wave

Tyson Ngubeni
By Tyson Ngubeni
Johannesburg, 03 Sept 2014
Increased smart device penetration could be a goldmine for local e-tailers.
Increased smart device penetration could be a goldmine for local e-tailers.

As SA's e-commerce players tap into the sector's scope for growth, the maturing mobility landscape is proving to be a component for further traction.

uAfrica - the company that runs the Annual South African E-commerce Awards - will this week outline statistics related to the local sector, as well as announce the companies that have excelled throughout the past year. Mobility is set to feature as an emerging trend that merchants could take advantage of.

Andy Higgins, uAfrica's MD, notes recent stats gathered by the firm indicate an increasing range of devices used to transact online. "For the first time, more than half the traffic going to e-commerce sites originate from a mobile device. Many people are also using their mobile device in a physical store to research a product before deciding whether to purchase it or not."

Higgins adds that mobility factors, including point-of-sale solutions and more accessible payment methods, enable merchants to be more versatile in where and how they make sales. "It is now easier than ever for a merchant to set up a pop-up store and process orders on the fly, be it through a tablet or their mobile phone."

Critical platform

Local e-tailer has emphasised its growing expectations for mobility by recently revamping its mobi-site in order to capitalise on increased users on that platform. Although specific user numbers were not given, co-CEO Kim Reid notes mobile represents a "significant proportion" of visits. He says Takealot will look for the opportunity to narrow the gap between mobile usage and the propensity to shop on mobile.

Declan Hollywood, marketing director at Takealot, adds the company expects mobile to be a "critical" platform, contributing around 50% of its overall site traffic by end of year. "As the prices of smartphones decline, and the user experience on mobile Web improves, we will see more and more e-commerce taking place on these devices."

Meanwhile, local company Seemahale Telecoms recently announced a partnership with US-based tech company iCelero to bring the new "mall in a pocket" e-commerce aggregator to the local market. The Shoppin mobile app integrates social functionality into online retail browsing by enabling users to interact with members of their contact list and social networks.

'Death of the shopping trolley'

E-tailer yesterday claimed responsibility for quirky installations of abandoned trolleys at traffic intersections in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The marketing stint attributes the 'demise' of trolleys to the rise of e-commerce in the country. Installations included 'out-of-work' trolleys as well as those placed next to fictional graveyards. A new "adopt-a-trolley" initiative aims to make repurposed trolleys available to consumers on the e-tailer's recently acquired platform Superbalist.

Thabo Lehlokoe, chairperson of Seemahale Telecoms, says the platform will enable users to gauge opinion on different products, while allowing them to share links across a range of social networks. "We're looking at integrating local payment gateways or mechanisms onto this platform," he adds.

Other e-commerce players to jump on the mobile bandwagon by engaging users through apps include and Groupon.

Diversify offerings

Roan Murray, CEO of mobile payment systems company Switching House, notes e-tailers focusing on a 'smartphone only' approach to mobility could miss out on a wider base of users in coming years.

"Even if e-tailers provide access to limited product ranges via simple USSD interfaces, the users that make use of them will migrate to smartphone users in future. If e-tailers include them now, they will build their base for the future."

He adds that companies might have to consider alternative ways to collect payment as the penetration of credit cards might not be high enough to widen the usage landscape.

World Wide Worx's 2012 Internet Matters report revealed the local e-commerce market was growing at a rate of around 30% a year, and showing no signs of slowing down. "In fact, taking into account the fact that a number of major consumer brands and chains have not yet devised comprehensive online retail strategies, the scope for future growth is even greater," noted MD Arthur Goldstuck at the time.