Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Time for the next frontier for small business: mobile commerce

Most people have mobile phones and they use these phones to shop, which is why small businesses must be ready for mobile commerce.

With online sales in South Africa gradually increasing since the onset of the Covid pandemic, bringing the industry to over R30 billion by the end of 2020, the next frontier for small business is here: mobile commerce.

Almost every person in the country has a mobile phone and mobile commerce or ‘m-commerce’ is on every industry experts’ watchlist, with retailers across multiple sectors looking to cash in on the trend.

Local small businesses should not miss the boat of aligning with this growing direction as customer behaviour evolves, Veroshen Naidoo, regional investment manager at Business Partners Limited, says.

“Mobile commerce is more than a trend. It is a lifeline that connects businesses to a vast digital marketplace, breaking down geographical barriers and levelling the playing field. With more South Africans shopping and transacting using their smartphones, small businesses have an opportunity to join the early adopters in meeting this growing need.

“They possess the agility, innovation and local knowledge necessary to thrive in this new era and in doing so, reach new customers and compete on a global scale,” he says.

According to research conducted by global payments solution provider, EBANX, the African continent has seen unprecedented growth in mobile-driven commerce, with 83% penetration of mobile users. Forecasts predict that Africa will be home to the most significant number of digital buyers worldwide.

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45% of South Africans browse internet with mobile phones

In addition, a recent GeoPoll study found that 45% of South Africans browse the internet using their mobile phones for more than four hours a day, while data from Statista placed South Africa at the top of the list of leading African markets where mobile owns the highest share of total e-commerce.

“Given the proliferation of digital payment methods, banking apps and e-tailers, all indicators point to the reality that South Africans are living mobile, talking mobile and shopping mobile. This digital transformation should be a signpost for small businesses looking to reach new customers, expand their local and international footprint and seize market share from competitors,” Naidoo says.

The most immediate and pressing task for small businesses looking to leverage the mobile commerce movement, is to optimise websites for mobile use. Despite rising levels of smartphone penetration, many e-tailers have focused too heavily on the development of their websites for desktop use and not enough on mobile.

A survey by Dynamic Yield found that almost 70% of users found that pages and links on mobile shopping sites were too small to click on. A further 36% of users found it difficult to find what they were looking for on mobile shopping websites.

“These findings point to the fact that building responsive websites that can operate across any device is no longer a nice-to-have, but an essential part of building a successful business online. Mobile users expect fast-loading, user-friendly websites.”

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Websites must be designed for mobile phones

Nadioo says a responsive design ensures that your site adapts to different screen sizes, delivering a consistent and enjoyable experience, whether customers are browsing on a desktop, smartphone or tablet. A well-designed, responsive website also reflects positively on your brand’s credibility. “Customers are more likely to trust and engage with a business that invests in a modern and user-centric online presence.”

One of m-commerce’s biggest drawcards is its potential for a high level of personalisation. The 24/7 availability of online shopping and the quantum leaps that have been made in recent years by brands looking to ride the tide of digitisation, has shifted customer needs and expectations. 

Naidoo points out that the contemporary consumer expects engagement on a level previously unimagined and advanced algorithms and machine learning functions have enabled a stream of communication that is always on.

“Effective personalisation relies on data and in the mobile commerce space, data is a goldmine of insights. By analysing customer behaviour and preferences, businesses can refine their marketing strategies, optimise their product offerings and continually improve the user experience.”

Naidoo says personalisation can transform a run-of-the-mill shopping experience into something memorable. “Features such as push notifications, location-based services and recommendations based on search and transaction histories are some of the ways brands can us to establish a connection with their audiences.”

Most recently, WhatsApp released its Channels feature, which allows for one-way broadcasting of marketing messages to many subscribers and followers at once. “The good news for small businesses is that tools such as these are relatively cost-effective and easy to use. These platforms could be the key to enhancing customer experiences, increasing conversions and building long-lasting brand loyalty.”

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