• Shaun Bateman

Locked-down SA consumers finally embrace online shopping

By Katharine Child



Online discount seller OneDayOnly stopped advertising for new clients during the lockdown as their products can only be delivered when the economy reopens, but their new customers have spiked.


Online shopping makes up a small proportion of overall retail sales in SA, but it has experienced an uptick in recent years helped by increased access to the internet. The five-week nationwide lockdown is also expected to boost e-commerce as people avoid going to shops to adhere to social distancing rules during the Covid-19 disaster.

The coronavirus lockdown is introducing new customers to online shopping, says technology analyst Arthur Goldstuck.

He said even the most “reticent online shopper would be an enthusiastic online shopper at the end … once they have learnt that it works”.

OneDayOnly offers new deals for 24 hours at a time and sells marked-down luxury goods and experiences. It acquired more new users in April compared to the number of new customers that bought goods in January, February, or March. It sells food and cleaning products, as well as goods that can only be delivered after the lockdown.

“Our best-selling shop last week was our wine shop — to be delivered after lockdown, of course,” said OneDayOnly spokesperson Matthew Leighton.

“We’ve been surprised by the number of customers who are placing orders with ‘life after lockdown’ in mind.”

One person spent R300,000 in a single purchase, said Leighton, on goods that can only be delivered after lockdown. Treadmills are not essential goods, yet OneDayOnly sold four times as many as usual recently.

It surprised Leighton, as they target impulse buyers with goods only on offer for 24 hours, and a treadmill’s price range means it is not usually bought by impulse shoppers. Consumers also can’t take delivery of the treadmill during the lockdown.

With essential goods such as food and medicines allowed during the lockdown, most customers shop online for these at mainstream grocery retailers.

To meet demand, Checkers asked its corporate food services business trucks, which are usually aimed at caterers, to deliver food and has partnered with Mr D drivers to deliver medicine from pharmacy MediRite.

It said its app, Sixty60, which offers delivery from Checkers to 12 suburbs from eight stores, had “shown a significant surge in demand” after President Cyril Ramaphosa first addressed the nation in mid-March to urge social distancing.

Goldstuck said the “lockdown is not necessarily benefiting [traditional] online retailers because most of their products are not essential goods. But it does mean a far bigger proportion [of people] will now be accustomed to shopping online.”

NetFlorist is not sure if it will continue delivering groceries alongside gifts and flowers when lockdown lifts.

NetFlorist marketing manager Thalissa Pillay said: “It’s hard to tell when nobody knows what normal will look like. We could remain in the groceries industry, return to gifting, do both, or go into something completely different.”

Retail analysts said shopping will be normal after lockdown as it can be a form of recreation. But while Goldstuck said people would still go to malls, “for some, shopping feels like torture. For those people, online shopping has come as a blessing.”

Still, business is tough for online sellers of food such as NetFlorist that can sell vegetables but not flowers.

NetFlorist MD Ryan Bacher said: “Our revenues are significantly down, but at least we have pivoted a little to get some revenue in. The goal was never to shoot the lights out though, it was to use our current resources to help fellow South Africans … and make sure that our employees have jobs to return to.”

David North, group executive: strategy and corporate affairs at Pick n Pay, said he expects an increase in online shopping after the pandemic ends.

“Online grocery sales have traditionally grown much more slowly here than in some other parts of the world. But many more customers have turned to it in response to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Shoprite said after lockdown it would expand its delivery services for customers who order online through its app. “At the moment we restrict the delivery radius around stores where the products are picked. However, we are looking to expand the Sixty60 service as quickly as possible given the demand.”

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