With the penetration of mobile phones in South Africa, social shopping is a snap.
"Social approval plays a major part in consumer decisions. The dramatic rise in mobile device use in South Africa has created new ways to test social approval. It's impacting how we shop," says Amanda Stops, GM of the SA Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC).
The social nature of shopping is multiplied by the connectivity which mobile phones provide, explains retail dynamics specialist Gavin Tagg of Retail Network Services and SACSC National Councillor.
"'What do you think of this?' is a question often asked when friends or family shop together. Now shoppers are asking this question of others, even when they're hundreds of kilometres apart," says Tagg.
"Shoppers use their cellphones to take photos of products they want. They send the pictures to friends or post them online. Once they receive the comments from their chosen social group, they then buy it or ditch it."
With mobile phones, this connection can be on a myriad of social networks, by SMS or simply by taking a photo and showing it to others at work, home or elsewhere, later.
"This kind of shopping can drive merchandise sales trends within an area, or community. It can create desirability and demand for specific items, brands, retailers and even shopping malls," says Tagg. "Social approval is as important to rural consumers as their metropolitan counterparts." Mobile phone use grows
Nielsen Southern Africa statistics published on 30 September 2011 show that in South Africa mobile phone use has gone from 17% of adults in 2000 to 76% in 2010. The statistics note 'Today, more South Africans - 29 million - use mobile phones than radio (28 million), TV (27 million) or personal computers (6 million).'
In May 2012, World Wide Worx reported that mobile devices were pushing Internet to the masses in South Africa. Its Internet Access in South Africa 2012 study shows that nearly 8 million South African access the Internet on their cellphones.
World Wide Worx also reported that South Africa's largest social media network, MXit, has about 10 million active users in the country. The fastest growing social network in SA in H2:2011, was BlackBerry Messenger. Shopping verdicts still low impact
Despite this, social shopping verdicts are having little, if any, impact on retail stores and shopping malls in SA.
Stops notes that lack of bandwidth in South Africa and the high cost of data constrain online purchasing, however, once this improves, the situation may change.
Tagg observes that while Internet buying is becoming more prevalent with South Africa consumers, especially for hi-tech goods, entertainment and books, general retail remains largely unaffected by online shopping channels.
He says that many shoppers may conduct online information and product comparison, but still confirm their virtual-world decision at the mall. They go to the bricks-and-mortar store to make the purchase.
He says one reason for this is that shoppers still like to see and touch they actual item they are buying, before they hand over their hard-earned cash. In addition, a trip to the mall is a social activity, different from online social networking.
"Centuries ago, going to the market was as much a way of connecting to the community as it was to buy goods; shopping has always been a social activity. Mobile phones have enhanced the whole shopping experience with another social level," says Tagg.Let shoppers 'click'
Stops reports that some shopping malls are reacting to this phenomenon by joining the shopper conversation with an active social media presence. A few have even introduced their own mobile phone app, aimed at making it easy for consumers to convert a socially sourced opinion into a purchase.
For the physical shopping environment, Stops notes that retailers and shopping malls that have traditionally been suspicious of shoppers taking photographs inside their spaces, usually for security reasons, may be wise to reassess their parameters on this.
"The prevalent mobile phone use in SA represents an interesting opportunity for shopping centres. Consumers are already using them as shopping tools to make their retail decisions," she concludes.