Ten years ago, many retailers were sceptical about whether e-commerce would ever become a big thing in South Africa because of the high barrier of entry but today e-commerce is booming in South Africa. In February 2014, a report found that almost a quarter of South African shoppers buy using their tablets, in addition to the 23% that use cellphones for transactions.
With South Africa’s mobile penetration rate sitting at 86% and sub-Saharan Africa’s mobile usage likely to double over 2015, this buying power is only set to increase. E-commerce is no longer the niche subset of retail it once was.
As the mobile market increases, so do the number of options consumers have available. Now, customers in search of a particular product or service can choose from any number of retailers, traditional and online, local and international.
Faced with this abundance of choice, consumers have become more demanding. They expect better communication with the players they do business with, something more tangible than automated stock replies promising an answer in 48 hours. Keeping customers happy enough to keep calling them customers is the single biggest challenge retailer’s face today.
Strong back-end technology needed
There is a need among retailers to direct focus towards faster, more fulfilling customer service and personalisation. This, however, presents its own difficulties, particularly for smaller e-commerce providers who may lack the resources of their physical counterparts. While online retailers generally have superior front-end technology, they often lack the back-end technology to implement a holistic customer-centric strategy.
In addition, the South African e-commerce market comes with its own set of unique problems, particularly for international players entering for the first time. A significant proportion of the population remains unbanked, rendering them unable to make purchases online. Providing reliable mobile payment or credit line options is an essential condition for any retailer, but this calls for an additional investment to be able to integrate their payment apps and support into the greater CEM strategy.
More online retailers are therefore choosing to outsource their CEM strategies to third-party agencies. By doing so, retailers can deliver an end-to-end, omnichannel experience to customers without needing the upfront staff and tech investment.
The scalability of such outsourcing solutions is of particular benefit to e-commerce practitioners, who often find themselves in much more temperamental growth cycles compared to traditional retailers. Growing too quickly – a very real challenge for online retailers – is mitigated by having the right staff complement readily and instantly available to manage all customer touch points and keep them in the buying lifecycle.
As online retailers grow their audiences alongside the exploding mobile market, they should pay careful attention to customer metrics such as response and resolution times, churn rate and conversion rate. Gaining customers in the e-commerce boom may be easier, but maintaining them might prove to be the difference.
By: Tracey Swart – BizCommunity