March 2020 saw a complete shutdown of the South African economy in efforts to contain the spread of the Corona Virus. During this lockdown period came a change in consumer behaviour which can be seen by a surge in e-commerce transactions as shoppers choose to go online.

Studies show an increase of 37% respondents agreeing that since lockdown, they have shifted to shopping online and, in particular, on platforms for essential products like groceries and medicine. Online retailer, OneDayOnly, noted a 40% increase in page views per user and a 15% increase in basket sizes since lockdown and aside from the essential items, this included people purchasing fitness gear and home ware.

In the space of a few weeks, COVID-19 has accelerated the e-commerce adoption curve by several years. Stats SA reported that the volume of retail trade sales has grown by 2.1% compared with 2017 and in 2018, the annual growth rate was sitting at 4.8%, meaning that, despite the current disastrous economic climate, online retail is still thriving. Considering the uncertainty around how long the lockdown will last, there is likely to be prolonged behavioural changes and continued growth in online shopping.

Consequently, many brick and mortar retailers and SMEs have turned to taking business to e-commerce platforms in order to keep supply chains moving while adhering to lockdown regulations. This comes with several challenges; creating a successful website that is user friendly, establishing unique selling points to stand out against competitors, re-evaluating stock management and availability, looking at new delivery options and ensuring safe, secure online shopping. Considering the overall online shopping experience, 90% surveyed are influenced by convenient payment methods, 87% by quickly-completed transactions and 86% will return to a site offering low or no additional delivery chargers.

The boom in online shopping in South Africa has many consumers concerned about cyber safety and secure-payment methods. Concern around the safety of online transactions was the reason 42% of consumers gave for not shopping online in these last few months. There is a desire for visible, explicit assurance that transactions are secure, that there is protection against unscrupulous websites and that financial transaction companies or banks can guarantee that e-commerce sites are safe. To aid this conversion, online retailers should recognise the value in educating first time customers about security measures put in place within their online stores.

For consumers, it is worth following a few guidelines for staying safe while shopping online. These include: checking that the website is SSL encrypted; the URL will start with https:// and there should be an icon of a locked padlock in the status bar: never giving credit card details over email: providing the least amount of information necessary: regularly checking billing statements: using strong passwords and checking that your PC is protected against malware. Fortunately, there have been many technological advances in online safety measures that allow for safe and secure online shopping. This includes programmes that govern online transactions such as Visa Secure or that use 3D secure payment authentication like MasterCard SecureCode.

E-commerce in South Africa is booming as retailers take their business online and new consumers gain experience and confidence in online activities. It is both an exciting and challenging time as businesses and consumers grapple and adjust with this new way of living.