As the defining event of this year (if not the decade), the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the world to “adapt to a new normal”. While some industries are hidebound, experts expect the retail sector to change permanently as more businesses adopt a bricks-and-clicks model or move online completely.
Globally, e-commerce has experienced a sharp surge as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. So much so that online traffic worldwide in the supermarket segment increased by 135% in April compared to January this year. The reason for this rapid rise in online shopping is twofold. On the one side, mandatory lockdowns and store closures are encouraging more people to buy goods online and on the other, the threat of Covid-19 is discouraging people to visit crowded supermarkets.
In South Africa, 29% of online consumers say they are doing far more shopping online than before the coronavirus outbreak while 65% said they are visiting physical stores less, according to a Nielsen study of 10 markets in Africa and the Middle East. Gareth Paterson, Director Retail Vertical at Nielsen South Africa, says the rate at which people are adopting technology to shop during lockdown is paving the way for the sustained development of e-commerce in South Africa.
“We can therefore expect a permanent uplift in online shopping numbers even after the pandemic has ended, since many behaviours adopted during the Covid-19 period are likely to translate into more permanent long-term habits,” Paterson says.
Covid-19 could further cement online shopping as a permanent habit if it means continued social distancing. In a recent interview on SABC, Kim Reid, CEO of Takealot, said that e-commerce keeps people away from contact and allows them to get the goods that they require in a manner that is safe, hygienic and social-distancing friendly.
Across South Africa, more than 61 supermarkets have had to temporarily close their doors due to staff or customers testing positive to the novel coronavirus and physical shops remain hotspots. Shopping online through platforms like Takealot’s free app removes the risk of infection by allowing vulnerable customers to get their goods while remaining in self-isolation. With many safe and easy online payment options, including debit card, credit card and Instant EFT, no cash needs to be handled whatsoever. Takealot’s 30-day return policy also allows returned goods to be collected so that customers don’t even have to leave their homes.
The range of products that are available online has diversified so much that it could further diminish the need for consumers to leave their homes to shop. From pantry basics and beauty to textbooks and toys, there’s a product for every niche market. According to Takealot, some of their best-selling products over the last few weeks included indoor heaters, hair clippers, home gym equipment, sim cards and data and office equipment (printers, cartridges, laptops etc) – an accurate summary of many South Africans’ lockdown experience.