05/01/2011 A generic pic of an online shopping website Kalahari.net JHB. (444) Photo: Leon Nicholas

Cape Town - Faced with the prospect of huge crowds, pan pipe Christmas carols on repeat and fights over parking, more South Africans are opting to do their Christmas shopping online.

Kalahari.com, which sells everything from books to coffee machines, said this week has been its busiest to datewith a 30 percent increase in sales over last year.

Its annual survey of shoppers with an internet connection, released earlier this month, indicates that “more shoppers are forgoing the busy rush of festive shopping malls for the convenience of online shopping”, spokeswoman Liz Hillock said.

“‘We are having a bumper festive season so far. Our sales growth is not only good news for Kalahari.com, but is also positive for the industry as a whole as it shows that South Africans are really embracing the convenience of online shopping.”

Hillock said last year’s festive season shopping survey showed that only 13 percent of connected shoppers chose to shop at malls – and this had decreased to 9.6 percent this year.

The survey also showed that 92 percent were planning to shop online this year, up 5 percent from last year.

Yuppiechef.com, a website selling cooking and kitchenware, said it was shipping double the number of daily orders this year, compared to last year.

“We see a considerable increase in traffic over November and December as people shop for gifts and kitchen gear for the festive season. A sizeable portion of this increase are first-time shoppers who decide to give online shopping a try to avoid the Christmas rush, and get free delivery on gifts across the country,” said spokeswoman Marina Pape.

Gary Hadfield, chief executive of Loot.co.za, said that given the festive season trading period comprised just less than a quarter of the company’s annual trading, “we tactically relaunched the Loot website at the end of November to offer customers more e-store options, shopping categories, security and usability, to improve our service to customers, but also to encourage new customers to trial online versus bricks-and-mortar festive-season shopping”.

A survey of more than 6 000 shoppers done at the beginning of this month by online research group Columinate found that 44 percent of South Africans intended shopping in a mall. A third said they would buy certain things online.

Another survey released by MasterCard in April indicated that 58 percent of South Africans used the internet for shopping, an increase from 53 percent in 2010 and 44 percent in 2009.

Eighty seven percent said they had booked flights online – a 10 percent increase from the previous year. A total of 71 percent had booked hotels online (a 9 percent increase).

The survey also pointed to the explosion of coupon buying sites such as Groupon and Daddy’s Deals over the past year, with 95 percent of respondents saying they had visited such a site.

However, when it comes to groceries, shoppers are still hesitant, with only 9 percent using the internet.

When it came to choosing an online store, the majority of respondents cited lower prices (91 percent), payment convenience (90 percent) and secure payment facilities (90 percent) as the deciding factors.

“People shop online when it is made easy for them, and when they have every reason to believe the service will be good. Online stores don’t get to meet potential customers face to face, so it is important to have an approachable and friendly online presence,” Pape said.

Hadfield added: “The majority of consumers are looking to save time, avoid the congested shopping malls and save money on their Christmas shopping – online ticks the box on all these points.”

The most trusted online shopping sites in South Africa, according to a recent survey by online research company Columinate:

1 Kalahari: Books, games, electronics.

2 NetFlorist: Fresh flowers and gifts.

3 Woolworths: Online store.

4 Yuppiechef: Cooking, homeware and kitchenware.

5 Exclusive Books: Online Store.

6 Look & Listen: Online Store.

7 Takealot: Books, gifts, electronics, games.

8 Amazon: Books, electronics, games, music gifts.

9 Groupon: Group buying, coupons.

10 Digital Planet: Electronics. - Weekend Argus