Smartphones are Transforming the Retail Industry

Smartphones are Transforming the Retail Industry


Just as the proliferation of personal computers and Internet access in the 1990s aided the emergence of e-commerce, the rising consumer adoption of smartphones is transforming the retail industry, says consulting firm The E-tailing Group Inc. and digital marketing firm Acquity Group LLC.

That news is nothing new. So why are South African e-retailers, and traditional retailers, ignoring it?

Here are a few stats that will come as a bit of a surprise:

In January 2011, Africans were viewing 6.3% of webpages via mobile device. By January 2012, 19.7% of all online content was being viewed via mobile.

Globally, the percentage by January 2012 was just 8.5%, with Asia managing 14.3% by Jan 2012.

Interestingly still, the percentage of mobile web users who never or infrequently use the desktop web are as follows:

  • Egypt-  70%
  • RSA- 57%
  • Ghana- 55%
  • Nigeria- 50%

From these figures, it’s clear to see that Africa has one of the largest adoptions of mobile technologies in the world and that is becoming increasingly proficient in utilising them for transactions.

The many uses of mobile

Because a large population of Africans live far outside the city centres and don’t have access to basic facilities like ATMs, people have been forced to adopt mobile as a means to transact. So much so, that another report rated Africa as being more mobile literate than any other nation in the world. In fact, mobile banking was pioneered in South Africa, way before the rest of the world saw the value in it.

It is in the retail space, however, where the bulk of energy and innovation needs to be invested.

28% of South African consumers use their smartphones for price comparisons or product information when shopping. The same amount of South Africans have changed their minds about a purchase, as a result of retrieving information via a smartphone.

Of that, 25% of consumers use their smartphones when shopping physically and also shop directly via the device – half of them within the past month. And 30% anticipate a higher purchase rate via their smartphones within the next year.

The figures speak for themselves. Obviously, mobile web usage in on the up in Africa.

Consistent shopping experiences

But many retailers have struggled to get to a point where their mobile and e-commerce sites offer consumers a consistent shopping experience. Only 10% of 200 e-retailers surveyed by The E-tailing Group earlier this year said they had a “seamless shopping experience” across multiple channels.

However, that remains a goal for many –  46% said they plan to do so by 2013.

So how are you going to capitalise on this trend?

Developers and innovators alike have many opportunities in the mobile space. While most website content management systems already adjust websites to conform to a mobile interface, the usability is often lost. Likewise, paying via a mobile device can be more frustrating than rewarding. Then comes the question of security.

Retailers should ensure their brand is managed so it appears the same to the consumer regardless of the channel. It shows a willingness to embrace technological change, and creates a greater digital footprint.

Adopting a multichannel strategy also gives consumers comfort in knowing your brand is accessible anytime, anywhere improving their brand loyalty.

And that could be just the thing to set you ahead of your competition.

Shane Oosthuizen
Shane Oosthuizen is currently the chief copywriter at one of SA's leading digital agencies. Having spent a number of years in the creative arena, he has forged a reputable authority in the South African social and online marketing community.