Online shopping remains a niche industry in South Africa, with most consumers still preferring to visit physical stores.
Google is trying to advance the industry with its Google Shopping platform. Through it consumers not only gain visual product information, but can also compare prices between different merchants from a single query. Users can search for a product and then refine that search based on price and seller. If they see something they like, they click to expand the ad and get more information. To purchase they then click through to the seller’s ecommerce site to complete the transaction or, as many South Africans like to do, go into the nearest store to buy.
“Brands will better understand how consumers respond to their product inventory and will be more empowered with matching the user’s needs with their offering,” explains Linah Maigurira, Google industry manager for retail and ecommerce.
“While Google Shopping is primarily built to empower consumers, it can be a powerful tool for retailers looking to plug the power of search into their ecommerce efforts. Users can search for what they want and get a result that shows them visuals of the product with pricing and supplier information, all in one place,” she adds.
Why South Africans prefer physical stores
Ecommerce in South Africa makes up one to two percent of overall retail sales, according to data from World Wide Worx. This means there is plenty of room for growth in this industry. But what is holding it back?
“The online market is still growing in South Africa. The challenge is seeing a scalable transition of the market into an internet buying economy. South Africa is one of the top 10 countries in terms of concentration of malls relative to population size. And it also has significant growth in consumers searching on mobile. These two fuel strong cross channel buying with consumers still showing a strong preference for buying in store,” says Maigurira.
Smartphone usage and online shopping
According to the 2017 Connected Consumer Survey, 84% of South African online shoppers do so on their smartphones and they use them during various stages of the purchase process – from inspiration to comparison to advice and purchase preparation. South African consumers tend to do what is called ‘showrooming’ – they search online for price comparisons on a product while they are in the store, looking at the product.
Google Shopping was launched in South Africa in 2016 and is now available in 40 markets.
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8