Sep 10

15 Things I Learnt at the 2014 South African eCommerce Conference

eCommerce is blowing up in South Africa at the moment. Noting the incredible stats and success stories of websites like NicSocks and YuppieChef, there has been an explosion of interest in niche markets and how best to get these products online. While the launch, running, and success of Mr Vinyl has taught me a little about eCommerce in South Africa, I was blown away by the facts, case-studies and lessons learnt at this year’s South African eCommerce Conference which took place in Johannesburg on the 4th of September 2014.

1. Mobile

We’ve all heard about the ‘magical new world of mobile’ since we first loaded Opera Mini onto our Nokias in 2004, however, something quite extraordinary has just happened. For the first time in its history, South Africa now receives more search engine queries originating from mobile devices then it does from desktop computers, laptops, and tablets combined.

We always knew that it would happen, right? Right. However, what we all got badly wrong was the timing. This happened more quickly than anybody predicted and there has been a huge surge over the past 24 months. Seriously, it’s exponential stuff.

In fact, this huge mobile blowout accompanied by an ever improving mobile infrastructural base means that mobile should be your primary concern right now. If your website isn’t responsive, if you don’t optimise for mobile, and if you don’t have a mobile strategy, you need to drop what you’re doing and get on it, RIGHT NOW!

As speaker after speaker mentioned the extraordinary growth and importance of mobile for eCommerce, it became increasingly obvious… Go mobile or lose relevancy.

2. Omnichannel

Uh-oh! I said the dreaded ‘omni’ word. For those who were at the conference, you probably would’ve gotten wind of the fact that it’s pretty uncool to use the ‘omni’ word and that we should refer to ‘new retail’ instead. One of the speakers went so far as to draw our attention to a particularly interesting debate — What does online mean if no one is offline? Good question!

In the modern world, we might start a transaction on our phones and then update it on our work desktops and finish it off in an actual walk-in store. Opportunities await every device, every platform, and every experience. The challenge for eCommerce stores and retailers now is to make use of as many relevant channels as possible and to do this in a cohesive manner. Shopify stores should go about syncing with auction sites like Bid or Buy and a central database should be used to manage products across multiple platforms and stores. What is the difference between retail and eCommerce? Not that much nowadays as they are completely intertwined and bound together and there should be a cohesive strategy that covers multiple outlets and platforms. Get with it before you lose your customers.

3. It’s about brands

This one might seem a bit straightforward, but the conference placed a huge emphasis on the growth and preservation of your brand and raised some very interesting points. I’m not going to go into too much detail on this but I highly recommend that you read Robin’s post on building an effective brand which covers a lot of the bases in addition to the three points below.

4. Stay in your lane

The first speaker of the day at the conference was arguably one of the best – John Lawson from ColderICE. Grabbing the attendees’ attention, or at least the music fundis in the crowd, John cleverly stuck a picture up of N.W.A. on the big screen display at the beginning of his presentation. I could almost feel where this was going when I saw Dr. Dre’s face… Beats by Dre.

Dr. Dre is the world’s first hip-hop billionaire and he got there by selling his stake in Beats by Dre to Apple. I won’t run through the full story of Beats by Dre, you should Google that though for a good read, however, one of the key success factors which John Lawson cleverly alluded to was that Dre stuck to his lane.

Sticking to your lane means that you do what you are good at and focus on your niche, which you already know about. We are all already experts in some capacity, at some thing in the world. We all have our own interests and know something specialised that few others do. This is what you need to focus on. Keep it real, stay in your lane and don’t deviate. If you’re a music guy, don’t start a salad bar. Can you imagine Salad by Dre? It’d probably still sell but Beats worked best because if there is one thing that Dre knows, it’s music.

5. Feed your fans

Every brand has its own tribe and your fans are your ambassadors. Feed them with what they want and make them feel special.

6. Be consistent

On that note, always be consistent. Don’t treat one customer like gold and another like poop. Always deliver great service, always deliver a good product, and always deliver a smile and an experience.

7. Facebook tops the charts for best social marketing

Recently, Facebook has fallen out of favour a bit amongst the socialites. This is a story for another day but much of Facebook’s ‘cool factor’ has eroded over time. However, when it comes to conversions, no social media channel performs better than Facebook.

The stats back this up as the majority of orders that come through social media channels on Shopify stores originate from Facebook (±85%) which also has the best conversion rates.

8. Good design is critical

Good design is an extremely important feature of pretty much everything. A well designed building makes us want to visit and/or work in it, a beautifully designed golf course makes us want to play on it, and a beautiful, well-designed website makes us want to hang around and maybe drop a buck or two.

If your website looks like it was built in 1999, chances are that a redesign based on proper user analytics will help you out. Big time.

9. Make sure that the buying process is as quick as possible

When it comes to checkout, customers suffer from a huge degree of ADD. Make sure that the checkout process is short, quick, and as smooth as possible. Only ask for essential information and make it streamlined so that you get that order in fast. Multiple speakers referred to research which shows that significant customer drop offs occur after every 30 seconds and each additional step in the checkout process.

10. Do you even metric, bro?

We all make use of Google Analytics and we all stare at stats, like visitors per month, page impressions and keywords, etc. However, are you really reading into the metrics here? Is your analytics program really capturing all the data that you need? Are you really inferring the right information from the numbers in front of you and do you really know who your customer is?
It’s about metrics and figuring out what sells, what works and where the problems are. Find those problems, based on the metrics, and fix them.

11. Agility +300

One of the best lessons of the day, I felt at least, is that agility is critical and this is where smaller businesses beat big businesses. Big businesses have to deal with lots of red tape and shareholders before anything ‘important’ can happen. Small businesses and eCommerce sites, can adapt and move more quickly. Use this to your advantage.

12. Follow good retail principles

When you walk into a store, what type of experience would you classify as “good”? How should returns and refunds work? What should the vibe be like? How should you treat customers and what discounts should they get? Use this information and translate it for your own site.

13. Be more generous

There are too many people out there trying to make a quick buck and they’re too concerned with the short-term instead of being nice and looking after their customers. Your customers are everything, treat them well and be more generous. Give them discounts, presents, and smiles. They’ll likely return the favour by becoming ‘ambassadors’ for your brand.

14. Woolworths is onto a good thing

My favourite speaker of the day was Nikki Cockcroft who heads up digital and eCommerce at Woolworths. Highly energetic, pretty hardcore, and a perfectionist of note, Nikki spoke bluntly and openly about the Woolworths strategy which sounds excellent.

There were lots of life lessons in this talk which can’t be covered, however, I will mention two of the ones that personally struck a cord with me:

  1. Find mentors and balance your life. Find people who can teach and mentor you and strike a close relationship with them
  2. Learn everything you can. When it comes to balancing your life; work hard and play hard. It’s about work and family. Find your balance.

15. YuppieChef is the best thing to happen to eCommerce in SA

YuppieChef won the Best eCommerce Site at the South African eCommerce Awards for the 5th year in a row, and frankly, like previous years, it was well-deserved. The fact remains that YuppieChef does the whole eCommerce experience very well and they are an excellent benchmark for you to measure yourself against. The YuppieChef success story has paved the way for smaller, niche retailers to ‘give it a go’ and has fuelled the eCommerce industry. These guys have led the way and inspired many of us to get into eCommerce.

That roughly sums up the best lessons from the eCommerce Conference. I tried to cover as much of it as I could, but if you think that I’ve left out anything important, post a comment below.

Bret Dugmore is the founder of Mr Vinyl and MusicReview, and a good friend of Grenade.