The pandemic has accelerated the move into digital at a pace and extent that many retail businesses had not foreseen or been prepared for. It also shifted South African consumer behaviour to wanting a more helpful experience and to shop in their preferred way.

The team at Think Google explores the four key shifts in South African retail, defining the future.

1. Search is growing

Consumers are using online searches more than ever before, with some categories experiencing accelerated growth during the pandemic. When considering the home renovation market, the percentage of shoppers using a search engine to research the home and garden category has grown exponentially: A total of 66% in 2019, 74% in 2020 and 86% in 2021.

Insights: What consumers search for and how it changes over time, can indicate shifting consumer needs. Using this data, businesses can assess product, channel and demand strategies.

2. The growth of mobile influence

The mobile influence on the consumer journey has grown over the past decade, and even more so during the pandemic. Projections by Statista are that mobile consumer spending is expected to reach $270 billion worldwide by 2025.

In South Africa, the use of searches increased from 66% in 2019 to 77% in 2021. Shopping via mobile technology also increased, partially due to on-demand apps such as these servicing the food and grocery sector.

Insights: Optimisation of a mobile strategy is key – improving the efficiency of app campaigns, creating a cohesive user experience by linking websites and apps, and increasing the speed of your mobile site.

3. Online sales journey

Consumers are moving online more than ever. They are looking for help, finding brands and navigating through the available choices. Even when shopping offline, consumers often start online.

There is also a growing preference to buy online, with South African shoppers reporting that they bought more online in 2021 (67%) than in 2020 (61%). While the lockdown was a catalyst for this, 87% believe that they will continue to do so. Pre-pandemic, e-commerce locally accounted for 1,4% of retail in 2018, doubling in 2020 and reaching 4% in 2021.

Insights: Retail success is affected by the growth in online shopping and discovery. Using mid-funnel marketing strategies and first-party data will drive the digital path to purchase and reach consumers during their purchasing phase.

4. Convenience is key

Many retail categories saw a significant switch to online orders in 2021, with the major driver being convenience, as cited by 89% of consumers surveyed in that year. Even after being able to return to shops, shoppers found buying groceries online still offered enough advantages to continue doing so.

Insights: Increase convenience by optimising the online experience. Consider allowing purchasing without registering, include user reviews, offer quick delivery and click-and-collect or pick-up points. 

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to Think with Google for the information in this editorial.

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