Online retail is not only here to stay, but digital experts predict it will flourish exponentially over the next few years. Brick‐and‐mortar retailers would be wise to heed the warning to create their own online presence as soon as possible, particularly in light of the trends that have emerged for 2019.
A recent research report by the South African division of international market researcher Growth from Knowledge (GfK), showed that the country’s eCommerce retail market grew by 52% over the course of last year, accounting for nearly 7% of total consumer spend for that year and amounting to a doubling of the market share over the previous year.
So while traditional retail stores still dominated the South African market, rapidly increasing numbers of consumers were turning to online options for at least part of their purchasing decision making. Among the most popular items to buy online, according to the report, were technical goods such as electronics and major home appliances, with consumers stating their reasons for purchasing online to be better prices, attractive promotions and wide product choice.
According to further research conducted by PayPal, online spending in South Africa was expected to reach R53 billion by the end of 2018, up from 37.1bn in 2017.
Early adopters of online retail are therefore not only already reaping the rewards locally, but are keeping a keen eye on the trends predicted for online shopping in 2019.
Among the top 10 eCommerce retail trends predicted for 2019 by London‐based eCommerce and digital agency Appnova, is that mobile will be stronger than ever.
“Which means it’s a non‐negotiable for retailers who are thinking of heading online to have a ‘mobile first’ attitude to the design of their company websites,” says Rami Sassen, CEO of online retailer Teljoy.
A well‐known South African brand name which has been around for 50 years, Teljoy established an online retail presence four years ago already, taking its company entirely online by 2014. “It’s interesting that many South Africans still think of us as a brick‐and‐mortar operation,” says Sassen, “but we took a decision to go entirely online a few years ago to centralise our operations and bring far better customer service and overall value to our consumer base.”
Being a one of its kind in the rent-to-own industry, the company also expanded its traditional base of operation from televisions to today supplying everything from home appliances and electronics to indoor and outdoor furniture, all the while developing and extending the online experience for the company’s customers.
This includes a second trend identified by Appnova for 2019 in the importance of automating customer service. In terms of the latter, it is predicted that, by 2020, 85% of all online customer interactions will be handled entirely without the need for a human agent.
“The ultimate goal is to give a customer the best online experience they can hope for so that they will start an application and see it through to the end, ultimately resulting in a transaction. We, ourselves, have already launched an internal automated application process that enables our customers application to be pre-vetted and order booked without any human interaction. Once the application process has been initiated by a potential customer, they will receive SMS and email reminders giving them five days to upload all their documentation and complete their application. Since we launched the automated process, we are now seeing a 49% conversion rate of customers who filled out an application form and then proceeded to upload all their documentation, which is phenomenal,” says Sassen.
Teljoy understands the importance of personalisation and will continue to strive implementing new technologies in the near future through leveraging capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) to enable a more personalized customers experience.
“While online retail may be moving away from the use of a human sales agent, consumers still want experiences that are personalised,” notes Sassen. “Machine learning and AI enable companies to make product recommendations based on consumer browsing and purchasing behaviour.”
A wise move for any online retailer: according to the Appnova report, 43% of consumers prefer companies that personalise their experience while 48% will even spend more on purchases when the experience is personalised.
Closer to home, a 2018 report on the South African eCommerce industry published by iab South Africa (a non‐profit association that promotes digital growth) noted that 60% of shoppers subscribed to product or store emails, while 63% used social media sites to make purchase decisions.
“We’re very aware of this trend,” says Sassen. “It’s the reason that we send out regular e-newsletters to our clients on specials and promotions that we’re having, and also the reason we have both a social media presence and blog section on our website. Communication is key to online retailing and is part of the omni‐channel trend that is going to be huge in 2019 as this sector moves forward.”