Readersforum's Blog

September 30, 2011

Attracting and keeping online shoppers in Africa

How to draw in customers on the world wide web.


There is a distinctly upbeat air from two of South Africa’s best-known online retailers, and Unsurprisingly, both have their sights set on the opportunities that mobile brings, but in the meantime are finding South Africans keen online shoppers.’s General Manager, Ben Williams, maintains it’s getting down to basics that is key to attracting and retaining online shoppers in South Africa. Success is down to “boring, basic stuff” he says.

Key to Williams’ strategy is “good marketing of good pricing”. Online prices must beat the prices in physical stores and then be communicated effectively. For instance, says Williams, although is known to be good for books, he is working to build awareness of its pricing in other categories as well, such as e-books, music and games.

Secondly a commitment to delivery is vital, says Williams. And this is not delivery in the marketing weasel-word sense, this refers to the actual delivery of a physical item to a customers within the time promised. And once an expectation has been set, it can be a huge challenge to meet this: for instance a book might need to be delivered from the west coast of America, rather than the east, adding a week to the delivery time.

“Logistics are crucial,” says Williams. “Businesses that have watertight supply chains are winning.”

Finally, security is the third key factor in attracting and retaining online shoppers, says Williams. Here, as well as the usual digital trust certifications, such as Thawte, benefits from the affiliation with a known and established offline store, Exclusive Books. “This provides an element of built-in trust,” says Williams.

As an aside, Williams describes the relationship between and the bricks and mortar stores as having a “natural tension”. While the offline side of the business is wary of the online pricing, it recognises that online retail is key to the overall group strategy. Williams is excited by the role e-books plays as an intersection between the online and offline stores: while the e-books might be bought online, customers are likely to also shop for e-book readers in physical stores, and be shown how to use them in-store.

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