Ecommerce is part of the customer journey, not a destination

by Sarina De Beer: Director: Global Products at Ask Afrika.
Over the past decade, advancements in technology and the increase in online shopping options have transformed consumers’ shopping behaviour. It is no secret that COVID-19, which was characterised by movement restrictions, accelerated South African consumers’ adoption of online shopping channels. All major research reports support this statement, and according to Ask Afrika’s Target Group Index (TGI) data, consumers actively engaging in ecommerce market activity increased from only 14% in 2019 to 37% in 2022. This significant shift can be attributed to multiple factors like convenience, time restrictions, a hassle-free experience, and the enhanced safety associated with online shopping.

The narrative in our TGI trend analysis report informs us that South African consumers are no longer the forgotten ecommerce children. Our consumer market is well known for swiftly adopting new technology rather than the linear adoption we often see in developed markets. Just think how our broader market went from very little online access to skipping the traditional step of a desktop computer and went straight to access via mobile.

The same goes for online shopping. Rather than swapping in-store purchases purely for online, our market very quickly embraced a hybrid, omnichannel shopping approach that suits our unique market conditions. This makes ecommerce not only a destination, but simply another channel in a wider shopping journey, with these channels functioning interdependently to close the deal. Almost 7 out of 10 Xennials (born between 1977 and 1983) indicated that they shop online at least once a month, while 6 out of 10 indicated that although they may shop online, they still prefer an in-store experience for part of the journey. In short, rather than switching shopping behaviour entirely, they adopted both methods and on some occasions for the same purchase.

Onto debunking the myths of gender preference for online shopping. While women are often perceived to shop online more than men, the data reveals that males are more inclined to use ecommerce. In both 2020 and 2022, 54% of men made online purchases compared to 48% of women. Globally the biggest online spenders are the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). Locally the Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) are our biggest ecommerce spenders in terms of rand value spent. Our online shopping Baby Boomers are however growing steeply, growing from 18% of the market in 2022 to 27% in 2023 while Millennials and Gen Z are the most active online shoppers as expected. Marketers need to note that in South Africa we don’t always follow global trends. Similarly, discrete segments engage and function differently, and the distribution varies for these distinct segments, but the drivers, intention, adoption, etc are often far more similar than we would expect.

Consumers view ecommerce platforms as a handy research and planning tool. The TGI data from 2019 – 2023 shows a 24% increase in consumers who indicate that the first place they consult when they need information is the internet. For more expensive purchases, they will often still go in-store to make sure the item meets their expectations and to verify product specifications. Some consumers may even fulfil the specific sale online while they are in the store.

Trust is still a critical factor when consumers make a sale online. A plethora of new market entrants like Alibaba, Shein and Checkers Sixty60, all offering innovative ecommerce solutions, have contributed positively to the growth in online shopping. Consumers are however no longer solely focused on functional benefits, but rather look for reliable brands who they resonate with and trust.

In a society where consumers are increasingly time-starved, inundated with options, and less trusting of traditional marketing messages, day-to-day life gets driven by convenience. We spend more time looking at screens, and scrolling has become entertainment. People comparing online finds and gems are an integral part of socialising, and consumers pay attention to online engagement. For example, likes such as endorsements of trust, product reviews, complaints handling, and how brands engage with their followers online, influence consumers’ perceptions and expectations of the brand. Brands not active in the space will simply not form part of consumers’ conversations and ultimately purchase consideration sets. Ironically those who speak most about your brand online, often buy less than those who don’t.

Just like our ecommerce growth is no secret, it is also well known that our market is complex and diverse. To ensure a successful omnichannel approach, companies must know intimately the various shopping journeys of their customer segments. Ecommerce can no longer be an objective in and of itself. Brands must adopt integrated digital and omnichannel strategies, where the medium is part of the journey, to enable absolute customer relevance and not see the shopping medium as the goal.

TGI – Target Group Index (the complete dataset for the profiling of media consumption (print, TV, radio, and online), product and brand usage, attitudes, motivations and beliefs, and other consumer behaviours).

  • TGISA 2019C Weighted population N=26 980 000
  • TGISA 2020C Weighted population N=27 257 000
  • TGISA 2021C Weighted population N=27 766 000
  • TGISA 2022C Weighted population N=28 110 000
  • TGISA 2023C Weighted population N=28 681 000

Useful resources:
Ask Afrika
Ask Afrika is a research company built on years of solid expertise, academic clout and industry respect. We uncover deep insights on human behaviour in emerging markets. For more information or to purchase a tailor-made report for your business, contact Maria Petousis at or +27 (0) 12 428 7400.
©2024 SURREAL. All rights reserved.
Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIn Join us on Facebook