South Africans Look Set to Accelerate Their Journey Towards Online Shopping

Established retail brands have an advantage since consumers find it easier to shop online with brands they already know and trust in uncertain times.”

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Online shopper
Happy online shopper carrying a bank card. By Syda Productions / Shutterstock

South African consumers look set to accelerate their journey towards online shopping beyond the pandemic as they stay in to enjoy the investments they have made in their homes during the lockdown. This is according to new Consumer Pulse research from GfK South Africa into the behaviours and sentiment of online consumers during the Level 3 lockdown.

The survey reveals that consumers are preparing themselves for a prolonged period of cocooning, with 59% of consumers expecting the pandemic to last more than another 12 months, and 34% predicting that it will continue for another 18 months or more. Only 2% reported that they have booked a holiday for the summer and 71 percent agreed that they will travel closer to home in the future.

The reality is catalysing changes in consumer behaviour that are likely to outlast the pandemic. Some 30% of consumers reported that they had made an online purchase in the week preceding the survey, up from 19% in the Level 5 lockdown. Meanwhile, 26% said they would definitely increase their usage of home delivery even after the pandemic.

Some 16% agreed that they would definitely try to avoid malls and shops, and almost half (48%) said working from home would definitely continue to be a reality for many companies after COVID-19. These figures reflect consumers’ growing fears about the virus, as infection numbers soar – 70% said that they are “extremely worried” about the coronavirus in lockdown level 3, up from 66% in lockdown level 4.

“The pandemic and the national lockdown have forced South Africans to change how they connect with the things they care about and how they experience life,” says Rachel Thompson, Insights Director at GfK South Africa.

“Consumers are seemingly ready to stay in beyond the end of the pandemic to enjoy the investments they have made in DIY, home appliances, and consumer electronics for home entertainment.”

Most categories of online shopping set to grow

The research shows that consumer preference for online shopping has grown dramatically in most product categories during the lockdown; across product segments, an even higher proportion of consumers said that online shopping would be their post-COVID channel of choice. The survey results indicate that growth in the adoption of online shopping in groceries, consumer electronics, DIY, and mobile phones will be robust post-pandemic. A significant portion of consumers who claimed they used online as their preferred channel for fashion and IT shopping during the pandemic said they would go back to traditional channels after COVID-19, but not enough to bring this number down to pre-COVID levels.

Online channel choice now and in the future by product category*

Category Pre-COVID COVID lockdown Post-COVID
Consumer Electronics 17% 21% 24%
Groceries 3% 4% 6%
IT 17% 31% 26%
Beauty & hygiene 5% 11% 13%
Small appliances 10% 20% 22%
Fashion 11% 21% 17%
Mobile phones 14% 17% 20%
DIY 8% 12% 15%

*Claimed current and future purchase channel choice

When it comes to shipping and delivery options, consumers want them to be free, fast, and flexible. Two thirds (66%) said they expect free delivery, 64% demanded fast delivery, and 55% wanted click-and-collect options. Hygiene was also on their minds, with 56 percent insisting delivery staff must wear masks and 52% saying staff must not touch products with their bare hands.

Make it human

Even as they move towards digital channels, South Africa’s online consumers are still looking for human contact. More than half (52%) expect to be able to speak to a person on the phone for support, 44% expect to speak to someone via video chat and 35% expect home installation. Most (65%) are also seeking reassurance about the security of their personal information when using a mobile payment app.

“With 44% of consumers reporting that they will decrease spending after the pandemic, leading brands are thinking about how they can position themselves for growth in a difficult market,” says Thompson.

“The key to succeeding with online shopping at a time that people are feeling vulnerable is to offer wraparound value and to build and reinforce trust through a more human brand experience. Established retail brands have an advantage since consumers find it easier to shop online with brands they already know and trust in uncertain times.”

According to Thompson, some of the steps that brands can take to provide reassurance to consumers as they transition from offline to online include:

  • Making the product tangible through virtual product tours, virtual shopping, unboxing videos and other techniques where human touch is visible.
  • Using testimonials and peer reviews to build confidence in the brand.
  • Offering transparency on product availability.
  • Letting consumers choose the payment app or brand they trust to pay.
  • Ensuring there is no friction or extra cost involved in order collections and deliveries.
  • Communicating hygiene measures to consumers and enforcing them with logistics partners.

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