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Online Shopping and the Cellphone Revolution
Posted by
Honore Gasa at 08:00

It is not new news that access to the internet is growing at a tremendous pace due to the advent of smartphones and internet-enabled phones - now almost standard on all but the basic handsets.  Between 2009 and 2011, according to the AMPS survey, the number of people having accessed the internet in the past 7 days grew by 85%.  When you look at the growth in access via a cell phone it sits at a staggering 291% growth.  The growth in the number of people who say they use the internet for shopping also grew by 85%.

Even more important than the growth itself, is where that growth is happening fastest.  Traditional wisdom is that the internet has been the province of the well-to-do in South Africa.  While the largest number of internet users and online shoppers do still sit in the upper LSM groups (Living Standards Measure), the fastest growth is coming from the mass market (and by mass market, think of consumers still living in our townships).  Internet access in the past 7 days grew by 279% in LSM 5, access via a cell phone grew by 409% and shopping on the internet by a massive 665%.  Granted, this is still off a small base, but in all these cases, the lower down the living standards you go, the faster the growth.

Online retailers, in general, are still focused on websites that operate well on a PC platform and are only starting to adapt their offerings for mobile phones.  However, the growth in the mass market throws up even more challenges than simply having a great mobi site.  Consider payment options for example.  Very few people in the mass market own a credit card, so what can online retailers offer in terms of payment options?  Also of importance will be developing appropriate product mixes to appeal to the mass market.  New routes to market will need to be explored and networks expanded.  There is a lot of work to do and it will have to be done fast to stay ahead of the game.

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