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Contrary to popular belief the e-commerce industry in South Africa is huge with an estimated 14 billion worth of sales by the end of 2019 according to the 2019 e-Commerce Report from World Wide Worx. It may seem that the discussion around why the e-commerce industry is not growing is centered around customers simply not trusting the process of buying online. Looking at the estimated 14 billion worth in sales, we could also say there is enough customers shopping online but not enough retailers online especially the small to medium sized businesses. E-commerce is advertised as an industry where one can start an online business and make lots of money without a huge investment. This is true to a certain degree but what is not discussed is the capital and skills needed to have a thriving online business. One thing people fail to talk about is the challenges that face start up e-commerce businesses once they enter the market.

There are four main challenges that are facing start up e-commerce businesses from growing their businesses online.

Challenge 1: Marketing

To start up an online business, people usually set up their social media accounts and send WhatsApp messages to everyone they know about their new online business. Their social media accounts may get a few likes and some family members may purchase some of their products. Then no sales and their social media accounts have not gained traction, even though they have been posting pictures of their products. This is where a lot of online businesses fail, and the owner moves onto something else as sales are not pouring in as expected. E-commerce requires having a mix of different marketing strategies to promote and sell, not only your products but the value you are offering to your customers. Customers are bombarded with sales constantly, so one needs to sell more than a product, you need to sell value.  Spend on marketing within your budget and be consistent and persistent. Don’t be afraid to try out different marketing styles till you find the one that works for you.

Challenge 2: Deep Knowledge

An e-commerce business has many moving parts. These parts include digital marketing, logistics, warehousing, e-commerce site management, order management and many more. What many startup businesses within e-commerce don’t have is the knowledge of each moving part. One needs to gain a deep knowledge of these moving parts to take their business from start up to high growth. This information is available if you seek it. I have personally found courses offered by Insaka and Clubsheis to be insightful. The key with information gained is to convert it into knowledge by actioning it into your business and see what works for you

Challenge 3: Lack of self-investment

The idea that one cannot start a business without any startup capital is false, but one does need to invest financially in themselves and their business to grow. Gone are the days where consumers accept anything that is offered to them. Due to the large scale of choice consumers have with a click of a button, a high-quality online store is needed to ensure your customers have a great experience shopping with you online. Financially startups are cash strapped but what one may do is invest in what your budget can accommodate at each stage of your business as small growth is better than no growth.

Challenge 4: Customer Service

This is a huge challenge not only for retailers but for consumers. Great customer service as an e-commerce business is essential to grow your brand and grow your sales. Customer service is the core of how a customer perceives your business. If a customer has had a great experience shopping with you, they a return customer and spread the word about your business. A customer’s experience starts from when they land on your online store to the time, they receive their order. Be truthful and advise customers exactly what to expect when they make a purchase on your site. Customers are most of the times flexible in their expectations but it’s all about being transparent from the start as in being transparent you effectively manage customers’ expectations.

If you have not started an online business yet or taken your business online, get online today. There are many keen customers ready to buy your product or service, but it is your responsibility as a retailer to make the experience customers have with your business friendly, easy to use and dependable.

Written By Hlupekile Malama – A successful entrepreneur changing the world one day at a time

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