The Online Retail Industry in South Africa
The South African online retail industry was one of the few winners in 2020, which digital economy commentators believe was a “tipping point” for online retailing’s penetration of the retail market. While online retail is growing rapidly in South Africa, it remains small in revenue terms relative to sales at retail stores. Internationally, seven of the top ten largest listed companies globally are digital platform providers and they are occupying an increasingly important place in the global economy.
Online sales rocketed in 2020 as South Africans took to online ordering to avoid leaving their homes, and there was a sharp increase in demand for grocery deliveries. Besides the purchase of airtime and data, the most popular products bought online were clothing and groceries. Major retail chains rapidly expanded their online services by launching new brands and through acquisition. Logistics, warehousing and delivery have become increasingly critical, while independent retailers are concerned about the huge investment required in technology and distribution capability.
Online retailing, particularly in South Africa, is a relatively new and developing industry, which means it is characterised by high levels of innovation and change. Recent acquisitions of small startup online retailers and tech providers such as Pick n Pay’s purchase of Bottles and Imperial’s purchase of Parcelninja show that much of this innovation can take place in the margins and large retail ecommerce businesses are on the lookout for disruptive developments. Technological innovation centres around user experience and order fulfilment .
This report examines the latest trends in South Africa’s flourishing online retail industry, giving particular focus to large online-only companies such as Takealot, growth in online trade among South Africa’s national retailers and key issues for smaller retailers entering online trade. It includes comprehensive information on the state of the industry, growth, innovation and the performance of the major players. There are profiles of 41 companies including global players such as Amazon and Alibaba, the major local companies including Takealot (Takealot, Superbalist and Mr D Food) and Massmart, and retailers that are significantly increasing online sales such as Shoprite, Pick n Pay and Woolworths.