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Marketing

Guide to Building an Online Store in South Africa

Building an online store in South Africa is on the rise.

One of the most significant after-effects of COVID-19 is the rise of eCommerce and online shopping in South Africa. This resurgence may have happened because South Africa’s infrastructure has radically improved, such as better accessibility to the internet and supporting courier systems in place.

It’s becoming increasingly popular for South Africans to start online businesses as a side gig for extra income, as a new career path or even as a hobby for a specific niche. 

Regardless of why you want to building an online store in South Africa, here is everything you need to know to get started!

Online store South Africa

The Basics: What do you need to build an online store in South Africa? 

The three main things you need to sell online are: 

  1. A physical or digital product (or service). You could also consider drop-shipping, which means that you sell products to order, and your supplier will ship directly to your customer.
  2. An online website or platform to sell your products. 
  3. Payment processing to accept payment for orders.

Firstly, you will need to decide which product you would like to sell. The good news is that there are no real limits to what you can sell online — provided you can keep up your inventory regularly.

It’s also possible to sell digital products, such as subscriptions to websites or apps, e-books, downloadable resources, online courses and more. However, the products that you choose to sell may influence the platform that you should use. 

Tips for starting out

It’s a smart idea to perform some market research before choosing to sell online. Have you noticed a specific gap relating to your hobbies, or are you selecting a popular product category that already has lots of competition? Remember to take these ideas into account before you commit to a product category too early. 

You may decide to take your local South African community into account when deciding on a product to sell. Perhaps your South African friends or family have noted a gap in the market – it may be smart to see these ideas through if you feel there is sufficient opportunity. 

Online store South Africa using Shopify

Understanding the online landscape in South Africa

Before getting involved, you should know what the online sales landscape looks like in South Africa.

Firstly, you should be selling in South African Rand or ZAR if you aren’t already. ZAR is the only recognised currency in the country – and South African buyers aren’t likely to know much about conversion rates. 

There are a few key players in the eCommerce space who have a massive presence in the market. One of the most prominent players is Takealot, which allows individuals and businesses to list their products for sale on its platform. 

Industry leaders

Other marketplaces have adopted the same model of allowing third-party sellers to list their products with their stores, such as Zando and Makro, who each boast millions of customer searches per month. Part of the convenience of using Zando, Makro and Takealot is the fact that they handle the delivery and customer support aspects for the seller. However, it is not free to sell on these platforms – depending on the platform; you can expect monthly subscription costs or commission fees. 

An alternative to using a third-party marketplace involves selling on a dedicated platform, such as Bidorbuy. Additionally, the leading price comparison website in the country is PriceCheck, which follows a PPC model. Using a website like PriceCheck can boost your product to stand out amongst your competitors. 

South Africa is also big on sales channels, such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Gumtree and more. 

South African Online Store, Yuppiechef

Which products do well in online stores in South Africa?

According to our research, the most popular categories for online sales are:

  • Clothing, footwear, jewellery and apparel
  • Exercise and sports equipment
  • Pet accessories
  • Beauty products
  • Online fast food
  • Electronics, entertainment and Media
  • Furniture and Appliances

These are just some examples of product categories that have sold well in South Africa. If your product doesn’t fit into any of these categories, you should still give it a shot!

Clothing

eCommerce Platforms: What you can use to sell your products

You will need to create your website, or better yet, partner with an existing eCommerce platform to sell your products online.

Some of the most popular platforms include Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Ecwid, Wix and more. It’s important to note that you need to choose a platform supporting South African payment processing, eliminating some international options.

It’s vital to do your research on each potential platform. Some of the things you need to look at include:

  • What is the price of the platform relative to my budget? You may need to be setup fees, a monthly subscription and transaction fees for orders you make.
  • How easily can I access, use and adapt my online store to suit my needs? Is the setup process easy to follow?
  • Are there extra features that I may need? Which platform can cater to my needs?
  • Can I easily customise the design of my website? How often may I need to update my website’s look and feel?

Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most popular channels in South Africa:

PlatformPriceEase of UseExtra Features
ShopifyStarts at $20 per month, with transaction fees of 2%Very easy to use and very popular for this reason. Unlimited number of products, 2 staff accounts, additional discount codes, an SSL certificate and more
WooCommerceNo subscription fee, but you will need to host your own website and domain. Hosting can cost between $5-$10 per month, while a domain could be around $20 per year Works with existing WordPress sites, as it is like installing a plugin. Easy to use with an existing website. You can use many WordPress extensions in conjunction with WooCommerce Like free shipping tools, WooCommerce payments and many more, such as communication and SEO tools. 
MagentoMagento Open Source is freeMore challenging to set up, and will also need you to host your website and domain hosting independently.  Lots of control over customisation and added features, as there are open source solutions that you can add to your website that others have created.
EcwidFree trial for ten products, while the basic plan starts at $15 per month. No transaction fees. Does not let you create a standalone website, but rather add a store element to an existing website. May require advanced knowledge to set up your store first.
Limit to 100 products for a premium subscription. Integrates with many platforms, such as Wix, WordPress, Tumblr and more. 

There are a few other options you might also consider, such as Wix or Squarespace. However, we found that the choices we’ve listed are some of the most popular, except for Ecwid, which is starting to gain traction in South Africa.

Where else can you sell your products to support your website?

You might think that your eCommerce setup journey ends with setting up your website on an eCommerce platform. However, it would be best if you did not forget that there are multiple sales/marketing channels that you can use to drive traffic to your website. Your website must have a constant flow of visitors so that you can start selling continuously.

Here, it’s essential to be aware that using multiple feeds is crucial to improve your business. Here at ShoppingFeeder, we can simplify the process for you by helping you sell where your customers shop with our all-in-one platform.

It would help if you were listing on Google Shopping, Facebook/Instagram, Takealot, PriceCheck, Bidorbuy and many more. If you want to sell globally, Google is a fantastic option to explore. We recommend choosing 2-3 channels initially; you can always expand or adjust these later, once you’ve started to get some results that you can use for decision-making.

The benefit of hosting on sales channels is that you can reach a larger audience reasonably easily. For example, Takealot has over 1 million active customers in South Africa every month, a vast customer base to work with for a new store. 

If you need help setting up your sales channels, please contact ShoppingFeeder, and we’d love to help you.

Online store

Payment Processing   

Depending on the eCommerce platform you’ve chosen, you’ll need to integrate a payment system so that you can start collecting money for your orders. 

Some of the most popular options in South Africa include Payfast, Ozow, Snapscan, Paypal (for overseas countries) and more. Do some research, because specific payment processors will charge a transaction fee for every successful payment you receive. You’ll want to know about this before you get a shock at the end of the month when double-checking your completed orders!

Digital payment

Fulfilment and Delivery

Don’t forget that you’ll need to fulfil and ship it fairly quickly to your customers once you receive an order. This experience is a vital touchpoint during the customer journey, so don’t be too hasty when deciding your process. 

Depending on your products, you may need a separate warehouse or central location from which your orders are shipped. Shipping is one of the biggest challenges for any eCommerce store, and many issues can happen at this stage, such as damaged goods or shipping the incorrect items.

We recommend overcommunicating your stock levels and delivery status, as this is an excellent way to effectively manage customer expectations and provide transparency throughout the ordering process. Think about what you would like to see or know if you were a customer at a different online store.

Next, let’s discuss the issue of delivery. Luckily, there are several courier services available in South Africa that you can choose as a partner. 

Considerations

Typically, there are a few key factors that will affect your delivery costs, including:

  1. The weight of your item, in terms of volume or kilograms
  2. The destination of your order
  3. The required speed for delivery, such as economy, express or overnight

Most courier companies will charge more for delivery to remote areas outside major cities, so you will probably need to offer shipping in different categories to reflect these additional charges. 

For small items, you may be able to get away with using the South African Post Office. The main drawback to this is that this can be an unreliable option, and you may find that having a steady courier is a better solution – especially if you have a lot of orders to process.

Some of the most popular couriers in South Africa include:

  • Dawn Wing
  • FedEx
  • Aramex
  • Fastway
  • Courier Guy
  • Courier IT
  • RAM

Other options may include collecting at a designated pick-up point, such as 

  • Pargo – delivery to a local Pargo locker/collection point
  • Paxi – delivery to a local PEP store
  • PostNet – delivery to a local PostNet branch

Once again, we recommend researching these couriers to determine which one may be the best for your business. Some things to look at include price, land coverage, other customer reviews, and support if something goes wrong. Building an online store in South Africa will require you to make a decision regarding your delivery partner.

Delivering during COVID
Delivering during COVID

Conclusion: Building an online store in South Africa

While there are many considerations before you can start selling online in South Africa, it can still be a valuable way to gain a side income, or even pursue full-time.

Some of the critical things to understand before starting a new online business include getting to know the landscape of online stores in South Africa, choosing a product with a proper market fit, hosting your website on a great eCommerce platform, using new sales channels, and setting up payments and shipping. 

Building an online store in South Africa doesn’t have to be hard with ShoppingFeeder!

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