Paul Behrmann, founder and CEO Payflex
Online retailers are seeing a surge in sales amid rising concerns of the threat of the Covid-19 third wave and resultant tightening of lockdown restrictions. 

This follows the massive acceleration in online adoption since the beginning of the first lockdown in South Africa, with online retail growth more than doubling  in 2020 from R14,1 billion in 2018 to R30,2 billion, according to World Wide Worx.

And with the third wave unparalleled in terms of scale,  retail is expecting similar trends which will see a further increase in consumption via online avenues. 

Paul Behrman, founder and CEO at part-payment fintech Payflex, says that heightened consumer anxiety is resulting in a spike in eCommerce sales, turbocharging the stay-at-home economy including online ordering platforms, home delivery services, mobile grocery ordering applications, and subscription services. 

Lessons learnt
Retailers need to support consumers during this time, adapting their online offering to better serve consumers in a  highly uncertain environment. 

“The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has drastically altered how, when, and where consumers shop, buy, and pay. While retailers were caught on the backfoot at the start of the pandemic, they can leverage the advantage of learnings from the first and second waves to prepare for the further consumer shifts to online shopping.

Behrmann provides insights into the key lessons that can help retailers effectively navigate the ecommerce landscape and meet consumer needs as we face the third wave of the virus.

Consumers want to shop online
Consumer shopping in the online space has evolved. Shopping online has become more sophisticated, with an increasing digital savvy shopper cohort expecting experiences to be intuitive, streamlined and frictionless.

This needs to translate into an efficient online experience with fast order fulfilment, evident by the significant growth of Checkers Sixty60.

Simplicity is a cornerstone of this experience, with 60% of online shoppers wanting effortless, easy-to-navigate customer experience, according to a recent Payflex survey.

A key differentiator is tailoring the customer journey to mirror the instant gratification of the in-store experience.

In this way Amazon’s 1-click checkout function has been a game changer in reducing friction in obtaining the desired product and facilitating a streamlined payment process. 

Customers enter their card information just once. The details are then safely stored for future transactions and can be accessed anytime through a “1-click” checkout.

“Our experience indicates that the Payflex 1-click checkout process can reduce cart abandonment by a whopping 40%  –  a huge benefit for conversions for ecommerce merchants.”

Accommodating consumer financial constraints
In the face of a third wave, personal and household finances are facing fresh uncertainties, which is expected to exacerbate unemployment, loss of income and accelerating levels of personal debt.

Behrmann says that this has resulted in the need for retailers to deliver human-centric, empathetic, and flexible options which meet customer needs.

Consumers want payment solutions which increase their cashflow without the debt burden of interest associated with credit cards, while enabling them to purchase what they need.

“Options like the buy now pay later (BNPL) solution enables consumers to budget effectively, paying in installments and usually across two paychecks.

This has had a significant impact  on both volume and frequency of consumer shopping with retailers experiencing an increase in shopper frequency of 5.5 times per quarter with the BNPL solution.”

Second chance at the online opportunity
Ecommerce proved to be a life raft for the retail sector last year with the Payflex part-payment platform growing from a shopper base of 2 000 to over 100 000 in 12 months. 

And in the face of fresh lockdown restrictions, this is another chance for retailers to adapt their operations and upgrade their online store to accommodate the consumer demand for the safety and convenience of digital. 

Behrmann says eCommerce offers a significant opportunity for retailers wanting to meet the needs of their customers as well as mitigate the loss of brick and mortar sales. 

“As the pandemic continues to rewrite the rules of retail, those eCommerce retailers with a robust eCommerce strategy will be in a powerful position to foster customer loyalty, engagement, and conversions.” 

Establish opportunities for contactless shopping
Covid-19 has put the safety of the consumer in the spotlight. Retailers need to take every precaution to ensure that customers can shop without making contact and still have an enjoyable experience. 

Behrmann says contactless technology  has become the standard in today’s retail landscape with customers expecting a seamless payment process where they can pay with just one click, tap, or scan.

“Retailers need to incorporate contactless solutions such as the Mr Price or Payflex app to facilitate a safe, contact free shopping experience. This is vital in driving customer confidence, satisfaction and loyalty in a pandemic world.”

Looking ahead at an uncertain future
Looking ahead, much is uncertain as to when South Africa will manage to flatten the curve of the volatile third wave. Last year’s lockdown started off as 21 days, and there is no guarantee that restrictions will be lifted on 11 July. 

“If the first two waves taught retailers anything, it’s the importance of adaptability, agility and providing shopping solutions which keep shoppers safe while accommodating their budget constraints.” 

Those retailers who leverage the lessons of the first two waves will be able to meet shopper demands at every touchpoint of the digital journey,  ensuring they remain robust, successfully navigating the uncharted waters of the third wave.