How to compete with the eCommerce Big Boys

Surprisingly, South Africa is the 37th largest market for eCommerce with a revenue of $4 billion generated in 2020 and this is estimated to grow to $25 billion in 2025. So, with all this available purchasing power why isn’t your brand selling online? The most common answer to this question is the concern of how small to medium-size businesses can compete directly with the giants of the industry, when their technology, marketing spend, inventory, and reach dwarfs the other players in the market.

While there isn’t a single silver bullet that will make you successful in eCommerce, there are many tactics and strategies that can be implemented which can’t be replicated by 'the big boys'. Why should you open your own online store instead of just listing your products on any of the already well-established eCommerce stores?

The main reason you should have your own store is to control and perfect the customer experience. I’ve personally bought many products from the leading online retailers in South Africa, but I’ve never considered it a wonderful experience with a brand. The reason is that it can’t provide the same experience as Lindt. I'll always buy my girlfriend's birthday present from Lindt because of the experience of being in the store, being given free chocolate while my order is being rung up, and walking out of the store with a fancy bag.   

This experience is a consideration for a lot of online buyers when choosing between two or more online stores. The majority of the major online retailers have thousands of products and want all sellers to fit into their template, whereas brands can customise their own online store for the best customer experience by showing product colour options and extras that they offer.

Thus, the bar isn't set very high when it comes to giving a customer a unique shopping experience, giving your website a chance to compete.

However, it’s not an entirely easy venture as there are still challenges which limit the potential of some industries to take advantage of eCommerce platforms. A major challenge for South African businesses wanting to deliver their products to customers is the infrastructure available in townships where delivery can be impacted by poor roads, a lack of a standardised residential address system and security concerns. This makes it more challenging for businesses who want to target this audience with an eCommerce offering. Another challenge for small businesses is the cost of software and or time to manage their inventory, their delivery partners, and their website while trying to delight their customers. This becomes more complex when these business owners need to research and choose the right mix of software and 3rd party services as the options are vast.

How to win customers

  • Find out what your target audience wants and make sure they know you offer it, whether it’s free delivery, a free return policy or the ability to schedule delivery for a specific time. These are USPs that can set you apart from large eCommerce retailers.
  • Make sure you deliver top-class customer service at all stages in the buying process.
  • Make the checkout process as easy as possible. Something as simple as guest checkout options can help increase purchases.
  • Build a community.

By knowing your customers well, you can do more to create a loyal customer, for example, include handwritten notes with their orders, be empathetic when there are any problems, and go the extra mile.

Why shouldn’t I just list my products on an existing eCommerce store?

You are selling your products to that store’s customers and not your customers. You aren’t building a long-term relationship, you’re not getting them on your database, you’re giving that eCommerce store some margin for this benefit. Another factor to consider is that not all customers shopping on these big eCommerce stores are 100% loyal and will shop around for the best prices before making a purchase decision. If you’re only available on one platform, you’ll lose out on customers.

What about social media?

The dynamic of eCommerce is evolving from a one-dimensional approach. In the past, brands launched online eCommerce sites and that was it. Spend some money on advertising and let the money roll in. However, we see trends of brands using multiple, creative ways of eCommerce with the ever-increasing popularity of social media channels:

  • Some brands are bringing back live commerce in the form of cooking shows or fashion shows on Instagram Reels and TikTok.
  • Social commerce is still prevalent as brands continue to shift more resources to social media channels. It is not only about paying influencers to promote your brand but also about giving your brand a social media personality. For example, Cassper Nyovest x Nedbank. 
  • Quick commerce is becoming the most popular form of convenience-driven eCommerce. We saw 7-day deliveries turn into 2 days, and 1-day deliveries turn into 30 minutes.

What should I do next?

Now that you know about the opportunities available to you in South Africa for eCommerce, you can start taking advantage of these insights. Consider your website technology, delivery logistics, inventory management, and marketing strategy so that you can scale your business as it grows. Customers will always choose a brand that goes above and beyond for them, so make sure your brand always gives them the best possible experience. Always make sure to provide your target audience with better service than your competitors. 

Don't hesitate to contact us if you need to develop an eCommerce strategy and a digital presence and find out how CBR Marketing generated a 1200% return on ad spend for Bidvest Waltons during their Back to School campaign.


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