Online shopping via smartphones eclipses PCs, tablets

Read time 6min 40sec
SA is still behind the global trend in terms of the use of online shopping platforms.
SA is still behind the global trend in terms of the use of online shopping platforms.

Smartphones have become the go-to devices for online shopping for consumers across the globe, as well as in SA.

This is according to Anton Hugo, retail and consumer industry leader for PwC Africa, detailing the latest findings of the PwC Global Consumer Insights survey. The annual survey assessed the shopping behaviour, habits and expectations of 21 480 consumers in 27 countries, including 1 009 from SA.

Unpacking the results at a media briefing in Johannesburg yesterday, Hugo said for the first time in the survey's 10-year history, it found that consumers shop on smartphones more often than other digital devices.

The survey, conducted by an independent party on behalf of PwC, examined shopping platforms consumers used daily and weekly. These include PCs, tablets, smartphones, as well as in-store.

In SA, 18% of the respondents (24% globally) said they use a smartphone to shop online, with 14% (23% globally) using a PC and 11% (16% globally) using a tablet, the report reveals.

According to Hugo, 63.2% of the local respondents revealed they have used their smartphones to pay bills and invoices in the past 12 months, while 67% have transferred money. 51% of the global sample of consumers revealed they use a smartphone to pay bills and invoices online.

"Not only are consumers the strongest link in the global economic chain, but PwC's Global Consumer Insights Survey shows the technological tools available to them have put them in a position to demand a tailored, seamless and multichannel shopping and social-media-powered experience. Retailers can achieve this by using a blend of both physical and digital approaches. The result for companies will be a greater return on experience with the customer and gaining a competitive advantage."

PwC partner Rashaad Fortune pointed out that from a South African context, it makes sense to see mobile become the favoured online shopping tool.

Like with many of the technologies we have adopted, we have leap-frogged certain things, he said. "In SA, having access to a computer with Internet access has been a challenge for many people, but with smartphones becoming cheaper and readily available, people have bypassed PCs and gone straight to mobile."

According to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's new report on the State of ICT Sector in SA 2019, the country's smartphone penetration has nearly doubled in the last two years and is now sitting at over 80%.

Consumer shopping habits over the last five years.
Consumer shopping habits over the last five years.

Embracing digital

While the overall uptake of online shopping in SA remains low at 17% (31% globally), PwC foresees an uptick in the use of online as a primary source of shopping going forward.

Hugo believes the shift to online goes hand-in-hand with consumers embracing a digital way of life. Local retailers, over the last two years, have focused on providing a wider range of choice in terms of shopping channels, he noted.

"Our survey findings show shoppers who are willing to pay premium prices want better services, such as a personal stylist, and added conveniences, such as mobile payments and cutting-edge technology."

Hugo added that of those local respondents surveyed, 38% said they have purchased from Amazon, which he described as interesting considering the e-commerce platform is yet to officially launch in the country.

Fortune noted the uptake of online shopping is also the result of access to Internet apps and digital services through smartphones.

"We're still behind the global trend in terms of the use of online shopping platforms, but we've seen the same trend in terms of the increase, which comes on the back of increased usage of smartphones, data becoming cheaper, access becoming cheaper and people becoming more tech-savvy, as well as demand for a better shopping experience."

Over the years, PwC has noticed that as consumers become more familiar with technology, they become more trusting of these new technologies, which has resulted in them moving online for other services as well, he added.

"Consumers have transitioned into this digital life and accepted the digital trust that comes with it. Furthermore, the South African consumer has been willing to adopt the use of online for financial services at a very good rate."

Power of social media

The PwC report shows social media-placed ads, those that allow consumers to interact with a brand, are now ranked as the third most effective form of advertising globally, and among millennials.

These types of ads have the same level of influence on consumers as television ads, which traditionally have been a significant form of advertising, according to Fortune.

Some 38% of South African consumers, compared to 25% of consumers globally, are more influenced by social media ads. Further, 46.5% of South African consumers (61% globally) say they have been influenced to buy a product or service following positive reviews on social media.

"The survey findings are not surprising given how pervasive social media is today," Hugo commented.

The shift towards social media ads is closely linked to a term PwC refers to as cord-cutting, which is people cancelling their subscriptions for paid-television programmes.

Fortune pointed out that consumers are watching less TV because of streaming services like Netflix. "As Internet access becomes cheaper and more prolific, we expect to see an increase in this trend of cord-cutting to reduce costs."

Non-traditional services

Fortune stated South African consumers are not afraid of digital currencies, as 56% said they would consider using and investing in emerging currencies.

The reason behind this may be a natural hedge against a South African exchange rate that is fluctuating based on the belief that a potential global currency may be more stable than the rand, he pointed out.

Some 31% revealed they would consider using digital currencies to make purchases, he added.

The challenge with digital currencies is the volatility. "Until you have less volatility in some of the digital currencies, the retailers will certainly struggle to adopt digital currencies en masse. There needs to be less volatility in the currency so that it can be accepted as a way to pay for a product or service."

Wellness, fitness and healthcare app craze.
Wellness, fitness and healthcare app craze.

In terms of health apps, nearly 75% of global consumers have up to three healthcare wellness or fitness apps on their smart devices, the report shows.

Only 4% of the respondents revealed they do not use any healthcare, wellness, fitness or medical applications on their phone, smartwatch or tablet.

Some 46% said they want driverless cars, with the most desired features being those that take the human element out of driving decisions.

The South African respondents said they want driverless cars for geo-location services and vehicle self-diagnostics. Meanwhile, global feedback revealed global consumers want driverless cars because they do not feature the human element,

"Consumers have entered this digital way of life and they are embracing this new world of technology," Hugo concluded. "The company that is able to build a tailored superior customer experience is the company that will grow its market share at the end of the day and be more successful than the company that hasn't."

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