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South Africans and Online Shopping: Where Customer Experience Matters

Posted by Alison Leishman on June 6, 2016 at 9:00 AM
Alison Leishman
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Since the turn of the century, South Africa’s internet penetration has exploded from less than 10% of the population having access to the internet, to 55% in 2015. For brands in South Africa, this presents a fantastic opportunity to attract and engage with their customers online.  

Google’s Consumer Barometer is constantly updating to show us the behaviours online that can help us to adapt our strategies to local consumers, and using this data in conjunction with internet penetration statistics can guide our marketing activities for better online customer experience.

We’re a mobile country: capitalise on the rise of the Smartphone


Something the statistics lay clear is that smartphones outstrip all other devices in terms of regular and engaged internet access. Internet use and smartphone use in South Africa have expanded together, which means three things:

  1. Smartphones give more people in South Africa connection opportunities
  2. Internet access is increasing, potentially due to the availability of smartphones. 
  3. Personal computer usage is slowing down in the internet-penetration growth in South Africa. 

Let’s look at how we can directly apply this data to our own marketing efforts.

Direct application: Where to create and improve experiences for the South African customer


This statistic is crystal clear: If you want your product found online, and to attract the attention of the South African consumer, you have to ensure your mobile experience is exceptional.

Creating a positive first-touch experience will set you up for future interactions, but also limit the number of customers who drop off your site because of a negative experience.


The top two reactions to a bad mobile web experience in South Africa are to:

  1. Try again later or
  2. Find another site that works better

This means that 20% of your potential customers will go directly to a competitor site to satisfy their needs.  You’re not only losing out on 20% of your margin; you’re losing out on the word-of-mouth sales you would be making off those customers.

Take a look at how South Africans shop online:


Let’s break this graph down by the activity and impact that it will have on your brand:

  • Initial discovery and inspiration

If they can’t find your product, they can’t buy it  .If you don’t inspire them, they won’t buy it.  Find out where your customers engage and research, and ensure that your brand is on the right platforms and delivering the right message. Keeping in mind how strong the mobile market is, aim to promote and discuss your products in forums most likely to be used by the mobile consumer, in a responsive and tailored way.

  • Preparing online for offline purchase (using a smartphone 76% of the time)

Your customers are looking for information on your product, pricing, location, or operating hours in order to make a purchase in-store. This means that if this information isn’t readily available, they will find another supplier or service provider. Simplify the process for them, and ensure that everything they are looking for is easy to find, quick to digest, and straightforward.

  • Seeking advice

User reviews, social media, and Q&A forums get a lot of traffic, because people still trust people. Digital media has made word of mouth a key player in the brand promotion field, and you should aim to keep your brand in a positive spotlight in these areas.

  • Comparing choices

Online comparison tools are everywhere, and while products are often the focus, service is also rated according to customers’ experiences. A brand that rates higher in terms of product and service quality will always be the winner in these situations, so creating a path-to-purchase and after-sales philosophy that supports and engages the customer is as important as having a top-shelf product. Consumers are busy, and they will save time by focusing on suppliers with great reviews, and  disregard those who have been rated poorly.

Consumer Value as promoters

Consumers are different anywhere you market, and keeping the experience positive for them relies a great deal on how you engage with them online.

To summarise with 3 take away points:

  1. Mobile is growing rapidly in South Africa
  2. Responsive design and simple path-to-purchase is a key focus
  3. Setting your product up to grow with the mobile internet market in SA is simple – if you get the experience right. 

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Topics: Marketing

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