Having been a senior role-player in the e-commerce space for 13 years, and CEO of Loot.co.za for the past three years, recently navigating the company through ten years of operation, these are some of my industry trend predictions for 2014.
South African retailers continue to operate in a fast changing environment, where customers now have a wider selection of merchandise to choose from and the possibility to shop around by just a few clicks of a button. With access to an increasing number of media platforms and easier and cheaper mobile accessibility, customers become more informed, opinionated and ultimately this can lead to them either being brand advocates or critics.
Various factors impact a customer's purchasing decisions and with traditional bricks and mortar retailers moving into the e-commerce space, a company should consider the following must-have components to ensure that it can remain competitive, if not differentiated, from its competitors in 2014.
- Inward supply-chain
2013 was quite a tough year for many general merchandise suppliers in terms of getting to grips with product and stock data management requirements of e-commerce players. E-commerce players and their general merchandise partners will have to work together in 2014 in an attempt to reduce areas of "operational friction", ensuring they attract new online customers and ultimately providing existing ones with a great online shopping experience.
Providing shoppers with more options, better services and lower prices is imperative and can largely only be achieved through a supply-chain that runs smoothly.
- Increased content marketing
Content marketing, in terms of hosting tips, advice and interesting facts on your website, will continue to serve as a key catalyst for building trust and demonstrating intent for South African e-commerce players and one can expect to see increased budgets in this area.
- Overcome search engine optimisation challenges
The ever-changing Google Algorithms will dictate more focus on creating unique lifestyle-focused content across all platforms and mobile applications. Companies should consider creating content using blogs, videos, Pinterest and Instagram to name a few. This type of content creation and sharing are mainly driven by consumers and enable businesses to build communities and creating dialogues relevant to such a community.
- Create a curated shopping experience
Big Data is a major contributing factor to an e-commerce player's success. By providing more targeted and relevant suggestions to shoppers, you create the feeling of a company that cares, listens and knows what its customers want.
A company should ensure it breaks through the clutter, providing customers with more personalised tools, newsletters and websites.
- The "shop anywhere, anytime" experience
You should be prepared to give your business mobility across all devices, as the online shopper's use of the traditional desktop and laptop is diminishing. The massive increase in mobile phone and tablet e-commerce experienced in South Africa over the past year will see an even steeper upward trend in 2014. If you are not focused on taking your mobile shopping experience to the next level, then be prepared to lose market share, especially during key seasonal shopping events such as Christmas and Valentine's Day.
When one takes a macroview of the South African e-commerce industry, you can expect to see an element of continued market consolidation between existing players and exciting new entrants in 2014.
There is no doubt that e-commerce in South Africa will continue to see exponential growth in 2014, but industry players will have to remain focused on what it takes to build a great brand. The upward trend in online shopping will only continue if we provide shoppers with a great online shopping experience.