Mac Consulting

Starting & Thriving in E-commerce in South Africa: The Customer

Mac Minds Insights | Mac Consulting

In our previous article, Starting & Thriving in E-commerce in South Africa: The Foundations, we explored the various options and requirements for taking your business online as well as the importance of meeting your audience in the places they naturally gravitate towards. This was about finding a market, exploring platforms to host your products/services, developing a logistical strategy, and engaging with your audience. 

Once your e-commerce store is up and running, you will need what is literally the lifeblood of your business: customers. You had previously established the distinct problem you wanted to solve and now you need to tell people about the very existence of your business and why buying from you would solve that problem. 

Answering the big question on customer’s minds and filling the gaps they are most concerned about will set e-commerce businesses on a far better footing to absorb and leverage the rapidly growing number of consumers making the jump to digital purchases. According to research by Euromonitor International, online sales in South Africa will grow almost three times quicker than in-store sales in the period from 2018-2023. While many merchants have online channels, most are underdeveloped, and consumers have not been eager to engage with these digital offerings.

Businesses that continually meet their customer demands and build brand loyalty are businesses that are often obsessed about their customers. These businesses want to know how customers interact with their product/service, what their pain-points are, and where the business could be falling short? They also want to know what their retention is like? How is the customer evolving over time and how do we continue to be their partner/business of choice in a world of continuous change? 

The successful business evolves with its customers, or better yet, invites the customer over into the evolved state. While such an evolution can easily be seen with start-ups, the same processes should also be adopted in established companies. One such example is spoken about by Portia Dhlamini, a Founding Partner and CEO of Native Nylon who we introduced in the first article. She stresses the importance of being agile when starting a business and being able to address the needs of your customer whenever you receive feedback. As she says, “You continuously need to make the customer comfortable, always.

When you are new-to-market, customers barely know who you are and what you do, which reveals a natural distrust of your offering and your capacity to provide it; they do not know enough about you to risk their hard-earned money on you. One challenge to overcome is to build trust, which will also be tightly related to the strength of your business operations. We have a model at MAC which we coined the “Outside-in, Inside-out” approach to delivering customer value. The “Outside-In” approach entails the exploration of the customer’s relational and operational views of the business through the use of various tools. This exploration, in turn, enables us to strive towards the customer’s peak satisfaction with the business. The “Inside-Out” approach addresses how the operations of the business are setup to provide the customer with this service. Each approach is essential to driving the successful operation of your business and guaranteeing customer satisfaction. 

So how do you ensure your business appeals to your customer and always “puts the customer first”? We have outlined a few useful tips generated from our past experience, as well as the insight from those we have spoken to:

Tip 1: Let your product do the talking

Sharing helpful information for your customers can be key to giving them the final nudge to making the purchase decision. According to Web Presence Solutions, an estimated 77% of consumers read online content prior to making a purchase. If the user of your website finds value in what you are putting on your site, they are more willing to share it, which then benefits your website’s search ranking.

Having a mix of content that a user can access and enjoy will allow you to appeal to various user’s preferences. Whether they are more visual learners, or if they enjoy reading thought-provoking articles, you need to be able to provide for them. A business that appears to be particularly attuned to this concept is FinChatBot, a business that creates Conversational AI Solutions for the Financial Services Industry. When you visit their website, you are welcomed with many different content options, including Blogs, E-Guides, Webinars, Events and readings related to Success Stories. If you want to get to know them, the product certainly speaks for itself in many different ways. 

Tip 2: Focus on the entire customer experience

The customer experience does not begin with customers seeking information about your product and end with them purchasing your product. Depending on what the product is, there will be a period after the purchase where they interact with or consume your product and their experience post-purchase should matter as much as the purchase itself. Consider offering loyalty programmes, free services for a limited period, discounts for return customers, or an occasional personal note/mail to make your customers feel part of the ecosystem. It is in the post-purchase evaluation where many of the review remarks are born. To acquire the best reviews possible, provide the best holistic experience to the customer.

Recently, African Technopreneurs had listed the wrong item on their website. A customer purchased the item, which was not the item they were actually interested in buying. Furious upon receiving this incorrect item, they went onto HelloPeter and gave the business a 1-star rating. The culture and philosophy of African Technopreneurs is to continually provide the customer with a great experience, so they sent this customer the correct item free-of-charge after seeing the review on HelloPeter. After the whole ordeal, without asking the customer to remove the 1-star rating, they actually changed the rating from 1 to 5-stars on the basis that the service was far better than what was initially received. This is great example of the importance of driving a post-purchase experience, especially when you take into consideration how this single rating can have an exponential effect on customers. Other potential customers may have read this review and not bothered spending their money with the business.

Tip 3: Build customer trust

Digitally savvy consumers expect the merchants they interact with to be competitive and relevant. These consumers are highly focused on the quality of their online experiences. They expect 24/7 availability, responsive help desks and a user-friendly platform. A service failure in any of these may result in distrust and the likelihood of consumers jumping to your competitors (provided the reviews claim that your competition is performing better where you fell short). The biggest challenges holding back online shopping today include limited trust in online payment systems, lack of consistency, limited choices and poor delivery experiences which include the cost of delivery. Furthermore, nearly two thirds of online buyers say that a lack of consistent service and limited variety in payment options is a source of frustration.

Building customer trust was emphasised in our conversation with Portia Dhlamini from Native Nylon when she noted that some customers do not feel secure enough to give their banking details to businesses when making purchases and, for this reason, she provides payment options which make the customer to feel less vulnerable. She listened, acknowledged, and solved their concerns because your customer needs to have peace of mind when doing business with you. This is an important lesson for all organisations and teams launching new products and services on e-commerce platforms: merchants need to rethink their digital strategy to generate a digital environment that is safe, secure, and engaging for your customer. This could include offering payment solutions such as Direct EFT, Ozow, PayFast and Snapscan to allow your customer to pick the one they are the most comfortable utilising.

Whether you are starting a new business, launching a new product/service or even engaging in ordinary conversations with your customer, their comfort and feelings of security should always be the key focus of your business activities. In your efforts to scale, do not lose sight of the customer’s voice. The trust and experience of the customer can never be under-emphasised and there is still so much to delve into, so for another article of ours that looks into the importance of driving customer value, follow this link.

When launching a new product or service, first impressions are key, especially given that customer trust is a difficult thing to regain once lost. Your customer’s experience is the beating heart of your business and should be treated as such. They should be drawn in by your offering, be compelled by your dedication to their needs, and become loyal because they cannot get better anywhere else. In the next article, we will build on the idea of focusing on the entire customer experience and building trust with your customer while we discuss the value in offering multiple and popular payment options.

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