ONLINE shopping platforms have seen an upsurge in use over the past few weeks as consumers prefer not to venture into stores.     Freepik
ONLINE shopping platforms have seen an upsurge in use over the past few weeks as consumers prefer not to venture into stores. Freepik

Huge surge in online essential shopping

By Philippa Larkin Time of article published May 1, 2020

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A recent Nielsen study into the impact of Covid-19 on consumer behaviour has found that 37 percent of South Africans say they do more shopping online.

Gareth Paterson, a Nielsen South Africa retailer lead, said: “Amid the strange new world of Covid-19, online grocery shopping has been a lifeline for many South African consumers, who have desperately sought out safe and secure shopping alternatives amid the uncertainty of lockdown living.”

As a result, he said online shopping platforms - particularly those selling groceries, medicines and other essential items - had seen a upsurge in use over the past few weeks as consumers prefer not to venture into stores.

Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel has been criticised for not allowing unfettered e-commerce as the country enters Level 4 of the lockdown and some restrictions are lifted.

The Neilson survey found there has been a shift in South Africans’ shopping behaviour.

Whereas previously, fashion, travel and entertainment had been the frontrunners for consumers to enter the online retail sphere, with grocery categories - particularly packaged and fresh goods - slower to gain traction, the lockdown had accelerated the adoption of online shopping for some of these categories.

Nielson found that of the 58percent of South Africans with internet access, only 1 to 2 percent had regularly purchased food and groceries online, and only 8 to 10percent had purchased these items in the past year.

“However, one-third of consumers had expressed a willingness to shop online. This, coupled with the current lockdown scenario, means there are likely to be prolonged behavioural changes in in-store and online shopping, with services like click and collect; automated online subscriptions; and personal shopping having the potential for growth,” Nielson found.

The rapid rise in the popularity of online shopping has highlighted its constraints - for example, extended delivery timelines - as retailers have had to boost their online capacity to match the increasing traffic and maintain their ability to fulfil demand.

However, the current situation has also resulted in local innovations. For example, Woolworths recently launched a drive-through click-and-collect option, whereby customers order online and drive to a designated parking spot where Woolworths staff put the shopping into the boot.

Pick * Pay partnered with tech start-up Bottles earlier this month and re-engineered the Bottles app to facilitate grocery delivery, while transforming physical stores into mini-distribution centres.

Uber launched Uber Direct, an on-demand and scheduled last-mile delivery solution.

Paterson said the adoption of technology in the lockdown was paving the way for the sustained development of online shopping, in terms of infrastructure and consumer acceptance.

“We can, therefore, expect a permanent uplift in online shopping numbers - albeit off a small base in South Africa - even after the pandemic has ended, since many behaviours adopted during the Covid-19 period are likely to translate into more permanent long-term habits,” he said.

However, Paterson said: “Retailers will need to quickly address the main barriers or hesitations that non-users had expressed in the past - be it freshness guarantees or free delivery. It will be crucial for retailers to make the migration from offline to online as seamless as possible by communicating potential stock outages, advising of delayed delivery timelines, and providing additional online navigation tools and support to first-time users.”


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