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23 Apr 2015 13:00
Hardly any industry sector has been left unscathed by the e-commerce phenomenon. Rapid innovation and the disdain with which traditional barriers
have been swept aside have levelled the playing field for even the smallest
Not only have industries been shaken up, but also business models and
Take, for example, the accepted knowledge that being
first-to-market holds tremendous power over competitors.
This no longer applies only to brick and mortar stores, but online
businesses are now equally at risk. Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn may still be
ruling the roost in their respective sectors, but they are constantly dogged by
new businesses operating in niche sectors that threaten to eat into their market
“This is as relevant to the South African economy as elsewhere,
possibly even more so given the rate at which online shopping is growing,”
says Greg Hatfield, General Manager for Marketing, Products & Solutions at
MTN Business. “The reason for this is that this growing appetite is coming
off a low base, which presents a huge opportunity for businesses able to enter
the market now.
“The growing local propensity for shopping online is happening in
tandem with the growth in internet access, declining connectivity costs and a
rapidly-growing middle class with increasing disposable income. And then of
course there is the mobile Internet phenomenon that is being driven by greater
adoption of smartphone and tablet devices.”
conducted last year by the organisers of the SA e-Commerce Awards supports
Nearly 60% of respondents said they were comfortable with conducting
their research and buying directly online, with 49% saying they had a favourite
online store at which they have made repeat purchases. The greater proportion
spent up to R500 on a purchase, and made 10 or more purchases in a year.
Google South Africa country director, Luke McKend, said in February that
the search giant expected to see even greater e-commerce growth in the country.
This was based on the increase in search queries, particularly in shopping
queries, which had grown by 55% in 2014 over the previous year compared to the
overall search query growth of 37%.
“This speaks to the trend that there’s very little difference
between online and offline purchases. People just think: ‘I’m shopping’,”
Further evidence of the growing disposition to online shopping comes
from First National Bank’s eBucks Rewards Festive Survey conducted at the end
The primary finding was that 14% of respondents indicated they would do
their festive season gift shopping entirely online. This had increased from the
10% doing so in 2013 and 8% the previous year. Reasons for shopping online
included the ability to compare prices for the best deals, as well as
convenience, delivery options, and unique items available only online.
“These insights support our conviction that the online economy
presents unique opportunities to South African business owners,” says
For this reason, MTN Business has launched its Build Your Business
Online (BYBO) service that provides an easy access point for businesses to
enter the e-commerce space. Offering a framework consisting of
industry-specific templates, the service allows business owners to register and
set up a web site with a shopping cart and payment fulfilment functionality.
Additional value-add services include optimising the site for search
engine results as well as marketing and social media interaction. Various BYBO
packages are offered that cater to different size businesses and their specific
Simply being online is no guarantee of success, which is why the
marketing and social media elements have been included in the BYBO packages.
Hatfield cautions, however, that the value proposition has to be
tailored to meet consumer demands. A key to differentiating, he suggests, is to
focus on a niche in the market rather than playing in the general consumer
“A small business cannot successfully compete in that space. It
cannot expect to be everything to everyone. As much as the online economy has
removed the principle of first to market, the offering has to be truly unique
to make inroads.
“The generalist market is already dominated by big online players
such as Takealot while traditional retailers such as Makro also offer online
MTN Business believes that the first-to-market principle no longer
presents the insurmountable barrier that may previously have prevented small
businesses from competing and that a growing number of niche online businesses
can easily turn the tables on even the biggest brands in the market.
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