Retail SMEs to embrace e-commerce

31 January 2019: A forecast by World Wide Worx shows that online retail sales figures in South Africa are expected to more than double from 2016 to almost R20-billion by 2020.

As such, South African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating in the retail sector should start to consider entering into the e-commerce space – an industry poised for growth as millennials and digital Generation Z, who have been dubbed digital natives, begin to make up an increasingly large portion of consumers.

This is according to David Morobe, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) who says that SMEs with wholesale/retail operations made up the largest non-financial sector in South Africa according to the 2018 State Entrepreneurship Survey. “With this in mind, as the country moves further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and access to the internet continues to increase, business owners should start planning now for when the e-commerce industry booms.”

Morobe says that although it may seem daunting to add this element to a retail business, it is a lucrative investment for small business owners to consider for the future. “As consumers continue to demand that most things be available at the click of the mouse, small business owners should start considering how they can innovate and adapt to remain competitive, not only with other small businesses but also with large corporates.”

As such, Morobe provides points for SMEs to consider when planning to start or implement an e-commerce platform for their businesses:

1. Build and run a professional platform: A website is an essential asset for any business, however, if you decide to add an e-commerce element, you will need to ensure that this runs smoothly with up-to-date software. Note that your website will also need to include an online shopping cart where all the items will be placed by the user before they head over to check out.

2. Create content: Ensure that professional photos are taken of the products that you are planning to sell online and that the copy is informative as well as enticing. Overall, the website design and content need to work together to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing.

3. Consider new roles in the company: As the online world never sleeps, a business that has an online offering needs to be running full-time. As such, business owners should consider hiring digitally trained professionals who will be able to coordinate these online business tasks and assist with any day-to-day issues. For example, it is advisable to hire a web manager if possible, a sizable customer service contingency, social media and content team, as well as a digital marketer to assist with building the business’s online presence.

4. Ensure a secure payment option and shipping strategy: Users need to be sure that the e-commerce site is a safe space to input their personal details. A good option is to use an online payment service which allows businesses to accept credit-card transactions and payments safely, whereby buyers can perform payments directly from their bank account.

Retail SMEs should also ensure that the security strategy is set up to mitigate the various types of cyber threats; including phishing, hacking and credit card fraud. In addition, the strategy must enable the monitoring of transactions from ordering to delivery.

5. Privacy is key: As an online business often calls for buyers to input private data, it is essential to develop a privacy policy which is displayed on the website. As such, the privacy policy should include how the site’s users’ data will be stored, collected and used with an option for them to opt out of any email marketing or newsletters in line with the Protection of Personal Information Act.

Morobe points out that SMEs who own brick and mortar stores, however, should not necessarily migrate completely to an online platform, but should rather consider this as an addition to their offering. “As the country is still rolling out infrastructure to increase access to internet as well as working towards lowering the cost of data, there is room for a retailer to have both options to ensure that they are reaching the highest number of customers as possible,” concludes Morobe.

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