Consumers and retailers stand to benefit from the gradual shift by businesses to internet shopping, analysts say.
“The tide is rising and I feel confident in using the term ‘renaissance’ because that is what it is going to be,” chairman of internet retailer Going.co.za Paul Greenberg said.
Retailers are suffering from low margins and debt-laden consumers are spending less at tills. Last week Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan slashed his growth forecast for the year to 2.1 percent from 2.7 percent, as strikes and electricity shortages weigh on the economy. Retailers across the board are feeling the pinch with giants such as Massmart, Shoprite and Truworths reporting declines.
Greenberg said the country was on the “cusp of a retail shift”. Last year the local e-commerce industry broke through the R4 billion mark.
He said retailers would realise that, in the digital age, customers wielded more control than ever.
He said this was enabled by showrooming, price checking online and home delivery options.
He said consumers also used online sites to access reviews as “customers trust other customers more than they trust the retailers or brands
. But this is not the end of bricks and mortar by any means.”
Steve Jones, the head of strategy and user experience at digital solutions studio Fontera, said the relationship between retail outlets and online shopping should be complementary.
Greenberg said although there were infrastructural challenges to internet access in the country, Telkom was making strides to make broadband accessible.
He said the online market growth had the potential to get the fixed-line operator to work faster and harder at this.
Adidas is rolling out a programme where customers can use digital tools in-store to gain access to thousands of products while having the “touch and feel” experience.
Jones said retailers should combine the advantages of in-store experience with their online shopping.
Greenberg said the digital boom he foresaw was an opportunity for entrepreneurs to capitalise on, because having an online store with no physical footprint cuts out a lot of the start-up costs.
Research from Deloitte said the explosion of the internet and social networks in South Africa provided companies with a significant base to analyse consumer behaviour, to profile their typical customers and then use this information to make accurate purchasing predictions and drive sales.