COVID-19 drives eCommerce in South Africa ahead of festive season

Published on 2020/11/11 by Sonia Navarrete

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a serious toll on shopper behaviour not only from a decline in spending but also in how they shop. With social distancing restrictions, a possible second wave of infections, and adaptations to new lifestyles, the crisis is driving more traffic to South African eCommerce merchants than before.

To help brands better understand this dramatic shift in behaviour, over 1,000 South African consumers participated in our customer experience survey where consumers shared how the pandemic is changing the way they shop. They also shared some insights into whether they believe these changes will last in the long term (*see below for the full survey methodology). 

ecommerce in south africa

How has shopper behaviour changed during lockdown?

During the various levels of lockdown, there have been varying degrees of social and merchandise restrictions as well as depreciating disposable income. Many people can’t shop as they did before and this has led to 42% of people saying that they have spent less as a result of COVID-19. 

ecommerce in south africa

However, looking at where customers spend, the shift is more significant. Almost six in 10 people (59%) report spending more online and less in-store. This trend is likely to continue: In the next six months, 44% will continue spending more online and less in-store, while 27% expect their spending to remain the same for both in-store and online.

ecommerce in south africa

An online eCommerce Christmas

The December shopping period is the most important season of the year for many retailers. This year it will see a dramatic difference in consumer spending, with  52% indicating that they will spend more online and less in-store, while only 21%, will spend the same in-store and online. 

COVID-19 is a clear factor—whilst responders generally prefer this wasn’t the case, as they feel shopping in-store is an important part of getting into the holiday season spirit. 46% consider this shift to be a good thing due to the added convenience it provides.

It’s not just more of our money we’re spending online—we’re spending more of our time too:

The graph below shows how much time people spent prior to and since COVID-19, shopping online each week.

online shopping for the Christmas period

The survey reveals a significant number of people who pre-pandemic did not use online delivery on a regular basis. 55%, use in-store/pick-up point delivery 1 -2 times a week followed by 22% who use it 3-5 times a week. 

Avoiding contact with crowds (77%) and convenience (49%), are the top reasons for respondents to choose online delivery since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, online shopping has its challenges. 61% of respondents say that their biggest deterrents when shopping online were out of stock products. This was followed by 58% stated that they had to pay high delivery fees and 57 % reported that they experienced delayed/slow delivery.

Preferred eCommerce brands for South African consumers

The results showed that there was an almost even split amongst popular eCommerce brands available in the market.

Depending on their shopping needs 26% of respondents said, they would shop directly from retailer/brand websites.  20% shop from independent online stores and 22% shop from established online marketplaces (e.g. eBay and WISH). 17% of shoppers use Social media tools such as Instagram and Facebook to buy and 14% buy using Amazon.

There is a significant opportunity for eCommerce vendors to grow their business in the current economic environment. However, with relatively few established brands dominating the space, it is vital they understand the trends driving consumer behaviour and adopt a strategy that reflects this.

Social media is the top way for discovering brands in South Africa

The research had some interesting insights. For example, how respondents discover new online shopping sites, suggesting there are four approaches that are particularly influential.

Social media ranks by far the most impactful with 51%.  Website ads are the second most impactful (49%). And search engines came third (42%) followed by word of mouth referrals (36%).

Bad experiences while browsing, selecting items, or making payments can rapidly result in abandoned baskets—a longstanding issue for the industry. According to Statista, the worldwide rate for online shopping cart abandonment sat at 69.57% in 2019. Finding effective ways to address it promises to have a significant impact on a merchant’s bottom line.

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*Data for the GetApp SA Customer Experience Survey was collected in October 2020 from an online survey of 1,000 respondents that live in South Africa.

The survey data used for this article comes from 1,006 participants who qualified to answer.  The information in this article corresponds to the average of all surveyed participants.

The criteria for participants is consumers who have made an online purchase in the last 6 – 12 months. 


This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.


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