E-commerce is no longer just for flashy start-ups or big companies with even bigger budgets, it is also becoming a valuable channel to market for small and medium-sized businesses. From plumbers to playschools, and from artisan food stores to gardening services, all sorts of small businesses can benefit from allowing their customers to shop and pay online.
This can work especially well for seasonal promotions when many people will be looking for gift ideas online or might not have time to get to the shops. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, a massage parlour could be selling vouchers for couples’ massages, or a sports store could be promoting golf equipment for husbands’ gifts.
Here are a few reasons why e-commerce is a big opportunity for South African business builders of all sizes.
The demand is there and it is growing by the day.
According to research from World Wide Worx, South Africans spend around R9 billion a year on online shopping. Sure, that’s just 1% of the total retail market, but the value of e-commerce is expanding by more than 20% a year. Investing in e-commerce now positions you to take advantage of South Africans’ growing appetite for digital convenience.
It’s easier and more affordable than ever before.
With the right solution – for example, Sage Online Tools – it is fast, affordable and simple to set up a slick, attractive and secure e-commerce website. The best solutions include features for search and social media marketing to help boost your web traffic, sales leads, and store orders by targeting potential customers online.
They can also integrate with your accounting package, updating pricing, stock levels, and product data in real time.
You can give customers different options to pay.
Payments gateways like Sage’s Pay Now solution accept a range of payment types through your online store, including VISA and Mastercard card payments, bank EFT, instant EFT, and mobile wallets like Masterpass. Even if you visit customers on-site to render a service or they come into your store, they can go online at their convenience to pay you with the method that suits them best.
You can reach new cities and even new countries with minimal investment.
In the past, if you wanted to sell dresses from your Cape Town boutique in Johannesburg or San Francisco, you would need to incur costs such as rent, staffing, and utilities. Through a website, you can sell your items to people from around the country and the world.
Though South Africa’s logistics network has a way to go before it is as cheap and reliable as those in the US and Europe, there are many great courier companies who can help you ship packages across town or to the other side of the world at an affordable cost. Even in your own neighbourhood, people who shop online might represent a new market for you over and above the business you get from referrals or walk-ins.
Customers do their research online. Use e-commerce to convert browsing to sales.
A growing portion of customers do their research about pricing and options online before they buy—these days the Internet is the Yellow Pages for anyone who needs an electrician or a new bicycle.
As a result, many small businesses already recognise the value of marketing themselves through Facebook pages and ads, listing themselves in online directories, and maintaining a professional-looking website.If you haven’t, you should start with those basics before you go the e-commerce route.
Adding e-commerce to your existing online presence can help you capture more sales. For example, if a serious buyer is browsing through your online catalogue of televisions, making it easy for him or her to buy and pay might close the deal. Researchers say that it can take as little as 2.5 seconds for a consumer to make a purchasing decision, so you don’t want to miss out on that window.
Quick tips for doing e-commerce the right way
Be responsive—online shoppers are impatient and expect a quick answer to queries via email or social media.
Make sure you partner with a good courier company—missed or late deliveries will hurt your reputation and profitability.
Remember to put some effort into marketing your e-commerce site, including both online (SEO, social, and Google ads) and offline (ads in local papers, on business cards, and so on).
Use a reputable payment company. A robust gateway means peace of mind for your customers and for you as the merchant.
Be ready to learn about new customer segments—international or online customers may have different expectations than your usual clientele.
By Viresh Harduth, Vice President, New Customer Acquisition at Sage Africa & Middle East