Who Owns Whom

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the 4th industrial revolution was just bubbling along. The pandemic fast tracked its adoption and forced even the most sceptical shoppers to find solutions to their long-held fears of cyber-security threats. Online shopping became the next best thing during the hard lock downs. The latest WOW report on Online Retail shopping in South Africa confirms that the industry was one of the winners during the pandemic.

Both retailers and consumers came to the realisation that they needed to fully embrace new technologies. That spurred tech-preneurs to develop new solutions to entice more businesses online, making shopping online easier and safer.

The hardest hit in the retail space were the smaller retailers; most only had static online presence and now had to scramble to add e-commerce components to their sites in order to retain sales and quickly familiarise themselves with the technological aspects of online shopping in order to identify the correct service providers who can help them develop user-friendly and effective platforms, resulting in more developers coming to market. The good thing was that it created competition which saw the cost of website development coming down for the smaller players.  Social media service providers also took advantage of the developments offering monitoring, advertising and content development services. Some obviously very good and successful, whilst others remain on the periphery. In all, innovative small businesses were able to re-invent themselves and adapted to the new norm.

On the other hand, big retailers in South Africa, such as Pick n Pay, Checkers, Woolworths and Edgars, adopted online shopping in order to offer convenient shopping services to their consumers. They offered consumers to buy products online and have them delivered to their homes in record times.

Across industries, companies accelerated the digitisation of their supply chain interactions and looked for solutions that will meet customer demands much more efficiently and conveniently. Consumers are spending time educating themselves on how to stay safe online, creating another opportunity for big tech companies offering free online courses on relevant topics in order to drive traffic online which determines advertising revenue.

Advertising by internet giants and Social media platforms such as Google, Facebook and Instagram grew exponentially during this time. For the first quarter of 2021, Facebook reported total quarterly advertising sales of $25.4-billion, which is a 46% year-on-year increase, whilst Google’s digital advertising network has shifted back into high gear, with sales surging 32% from the same time last year to nearly $45 billion during the January-March period. Big numbers indeed.

The rapid and sizable expansion of online sales created space for technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, which improved online shoppers’ experience.

The online retail sector is the one industry that saw the most menacing disruption. Today we only see the beginning and we don’t know how fast, how far and how wide it will spread. Like video tapes, music cassettes and CDs and DVDs, the transformation will be brutal and inevitable for some product lines and companies

Online Education saw dramatic change, with parents and educators looking for solutions online to help keep students up to date – UCT launched its high school learning platform during this period. Video streaming and air-time purchases saw an increase in sales. Online trading took a leap in the way companies in all sectors and regions do business.

Whilst the latest WOW report on online trading gives a brilliant account of how the industry shifted from brick and mortar to more innovative platforms. The lock-down induced acceleration of this trend drove collaboration, which businesses were generally reluctant to pursue.

Mastercard issued a statement saying 68% of South African consumers are shopping more online since the start of the pandemic.

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