Get your branding right online

by Craig Bellingham. Shoppers want technology that makes their lives easier and that creates better experiences. COVID-19 has throttled the South African retail sector, but ecommerce is the big exception as new opportunities arise and entrepreneurs flourish.

by Craig Bellingham. Shoppers want technology that makes their lives easier and that creates better experiences. COVID-19 has throttled the South African retail sector, but ecommerce is the big exception as new opportunities arise and entrepreneurs flourish.

As the pandemic hit in March and locals went into lockdown, online retail surged. Research by PayFast for January to June 2020, showed a 139% hike in online retail amongst 18-24-year-olds, while ecommerce transactions in the 25-34-year age bracket went up by 55% when compared to 2019. Transactions in the 55-64-year age group had increased by 62% over last year. Meanwhile retail in physical malls has fallen dramatically, as to be expected following the lockdown. Foot traffic through Hyprop malls slumped significantly, according to media reports. Hyprop is one of the largest mall owners in the country with properties that include Hyde Park Corner and Rosebank Mall. Traffic at these malls was down 24%, a recovery from April when foot traffic “plummeted by 71%”. Growthpoint, another large mall owner, reported that footfall had fallen by 90%.

After the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced, a huge weakness in the distribution of the retail chains came to light when township shoppers could not get essential items delivered. But where there is a market gap and there’s money to be made, South African  entrepreneurs arise and new opportunities are quickly realised. In Pretoria’s biggest township, Soshanguve, entrepreneur Reneilwe Aphane is solving the problem with an app-based food delivery service called KasiMenu, which already has 2,000 users in Soweto, Ga-Rankuwa and beyond. Then there’s a similar operation called White Fox, which operates in The Vaal and Soweto.

In Cape Town, a small business called Order Kasi operates in Khayelitsha, Langa, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, Kuils River, Mfuleni and Paarl. And these entrepreneurs are beginning to deliver for the bigger chains like Pick n Pay.

What’s clear from research and lived experience, is that technology is a key driver in innovation, and technology can propel sustainable ecommerce growth. The big truth? Consumer sentiment is down, but shoppers want technology that makes their lives easier and that creates better experiences.

Click delivery

The 2020 eCommerce Leaders Survey: Site Performance & eCommerce Innovation Trends shows that speed is one of the biggest factors that matters in customer service. Bottom line? Anything that creates friction is bad; anything that makes shopping quicker, and easier, is a winner. The eCommerce research shows that 60% of digital retailers are looking at site speed to become even more competitive with Amazon. Fast site performance is critical to increasing online conversion and improving shopper experience, with 61% of the ecommerce actors surveyed stressing that faster web performance results in higher conversion.

Design and imaging are also critical, and research shows that product photography has a direct relationship with sales. When shopping online, your customers can’t touch, smell or experience your product in any real tangible way. Because of this, it is critical to ensure shoppers are able to have as close to a real experience as possible. One of the most important aspects of your shopper’s experience online is to showcase the products you sell in the best way possible because this has a direct bearing on the checkout and will impact the experience that your customer has of your brand. Why? When you shop online every click, image and action will impact the shopping experience. A competitive edge means making your experience better than your competitors.

The better the experience you create – an experience that is fast, visually enticing and that showcases your product in the best way possible – the greater the competitive advantage. How brands display product has a huge impact on shopper behaviour, particularly in a world where most digital retailers employ multi-angle product shots, video content, and 360-degree spin presentations to convert a sale. This is where technology closes that gap. Cutting-edge machinery that automates video and photographic shoots means that even emerging retailers can now enjoy world class production. Today, setting up complex shoots is a cinch for brand managers and brand creatives who manage retail labels or any brand that needs world class photography and content. The production cycle is quicker, faster and automated. Which means shoots that took weeks can now be done in a days.

eCommerce offers this country a real growth opportunity, particularly if you look at recent research from Nielsen that reveals the surge in online shopping post-pandemic. The research showed that 37% of South Africans now say they shop more online than ever before. To lean into growth,  retailers need to embrace technology that makes going to market faster. Brands need agile partners and must collaborate to resolve problems that block growth. eCommerce is going to accelerate, and the big players have arrived, which is why local actors need to collaborate, join unifying associations, and merge logistics operations to enhance mobility. When it comes to content creation, use technology to pioneer better imagery and improve the user experience.

On-site the big investments going forward will be making ecommerce quicker, better, and easier for shoppers than ever before. And by understanding that customers are increasingly going mobile, and want fulfilment in whatever channel they are in. Lastly, investment in digital technology that radically improves the experience of product online will yield big benefit.


Craig Bellingham is founder and CEO of Studio[K]irmack. Studio[K]irmack is disrupting the visual content production experience with automation photographic and video technology. An entrepreneur who believes in building lasting relationships, Bellingham is passionate about making Cape Town a global e-commerce hot spot.


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