Ecommerce web-site options in SA

South Africa is a large consumer market with a growing ecommerce sector that’s projected to reach over R306 billion in 2021. Naturally, succeeding in this market does have its challenges. Fortunately, by following some best practices, you can drive conversions and, in turn, maximise your revenue.

We asked professional Web developer Felix Norton and ecommerce expert, Warrick Kernes, for some tips! Here’s how to build a successful South African ecommerce site.

An introduction to ecommerce hosting and software

The first step? Choosing between a hosted or self-hosted ecommerce platform. Shopify is a popular hosted solution, as it enables you to launch your store within minutes:

However, the ease of this platform does come at a cost. You can only use the tools provided by Shopify, and the add-ons that are available in the platform’s marketplace. This can limit your options, particularly if you have a specific creative vision in mind. You also won’t be able to choose your hosting provider – an important decision when it comes to performance and security.

Alternatively, you can install a self-hosted ecommerce platform like WooCommerce. Self-hosted solutions are typically more customisable than their hosted counterparts.

“As a WordPress Web design agency owner, my go-to platform is WooCommerce. It's also the most popular ecommerce platform in the world, with a 26% market share. I recommend WooCommerce as it’s easy to use, cost-effective and well supported,” says Norton.

With WooCommerce, you have full control over your ecommerce platform. This includes installing WordPress plugins and themes to add new functionality. You can even customise the finer elements of your store’s design using page-builder specific plugins. Not all WordPress plugins and themes are free, though, so you may need to factor this into your start-up costs.

Choosing a hosting provider

If you choose a web-site builder like Shopify, that platform will host your web-site for you. If you opt for a self-hosted platform, on the other hand, you must choose a reliable hosting provider.

Many companies offer hosting services to international customers, but the geographical location of your store’s data centre can impact your page loading times. When data has to travel longer distances, it causes latency and slows down your store. To improve the shopping experience for your local customers, it makes sense to opt for a provider that has servers located in South Africa.

Building your online store

“When it comes to choosing an ecommerce platform to build your site on, entrepreneurs in SA should only choose between WordPress or Shopify. These platforms are the most established, offer the widest range of support and both have a wide range of plugins and apps that allow you to add extra functionality to your web-site as you grow, which means you won’t need to hire a developer every time you want to make a change,” says Kernes.

Once you’ve chosen your hosting partner and platform, you’ll need to build your online store. This includes creating essential sections like your product pages, a shopping cart, and a checkout page. You should also create an area where returning customers can log into their accounts:

To help drive sales, your site should have order persistence. This means customers can return and complete their purchases at any time. Some shoppers may be hesitant to share their payment information online, so it’s also vital that you meet important security standards, including installing a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate.

Three tips to break into the South African ecommerce market

It’s important to tailor your store to your target audience. With that in mind, here are three tips for creating an ecommerce store that has instant appeal in the local South African market.

“The number one thing to think about when starting an online store is choosing the right product. Unlike physical stores, you need to take into account the logistics. Factor in the shipping weight, size, delivery distance and how perishable your product may be,” says Norton.

1. Prioritise the most popular product categories

According to the International Trade Administration, the top ecommerce product categories in South Africa are clothing/apparel and media. By featuring these categories prominently in your ecommerce store, you can increase your appeal to local consumers.

2. Support South Africa’s preferred local payment methods

If customers can’t pay using their preferred methods, they’re likely to abandon their online shopping carts. In South Africa, 41% of all ecommerce transactions are completed using a credit or debit card, while electronic fund transfer (EFT) accounts for another 20%.

Due to an increase in credit card fraud, the Payment Association of South Africa mandates the use of 3D Secure. This means your store must implement 3D Secure at checkout.

Many popular ecommerce platforms support EFT and card payments, including WooCommerce and Shopify. By choosing a platform that supports these gateways out of the box, you can reduce the time and effort required to launch your online store.

Alternatively, you can process payments using a mobile solution like SnapScan. This popular app removes the need for cards and EFTs, which can positively impact your conversions and cart abandonment rates.

3. Choose a local domain extension

Your domain extension can instantly communicate your status as a local ecommerce company. If you operate in a specific city, you may want to opt for an extension such as .capetown, .durban or .joburg. Alternatively, if you operate across the whole of South Africa, then is a good choice.

“Lean on the ecommerce community. You're not alone. This can be a lonely journey if you try to figure it all out on your own – there are already thousands of people on the same journey and you should lean on them to find the answers to your questions,” says Kernes.

It’s time to become South Africa’s next ecommerce success

Taking your business online can be a daunting prospect, but there are huge potential profits. For example, it’s estimated that online giant Takealot is generating R700 million in revenue every single month.

By creating an ecommerce store that’s optimised for the local market, you’ll be in an ideal position to connect with a huge (and expanding) audience of online shoppers, and perhaps even rival Takealot’s profits!

Useful resources:
xneelo is a leading player in the South African web hosting environment. Established in 1999, the company has grown in stature and expertise, currently powering over 500 000 websites.
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