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Online Stores – Are they good or bad for small businesses?

Mumtaz Moosa |
9 May 2024 | 09:30 CAT
2 min read

In South Africa, we’ve witnessed the influx of international online giants eyeing the untapped market here. With countless websites emerging and the world literally at our fingertips, concerns arise regarding the impact on small businesses.

For those nestled in suburban comfort, the era of leaving the house may be dwindling. The endless quest for the perfect outfit, the persistent children, and the reluctance to visit malls could be nearing its end, especially with the recent launch of Amazon in South Africa.

Online platforms have often signalled trouble for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with many lamenting that becoming a seller on these platforms eats into profits. Additionally, the emphasis on swift delivery eliminates the need to contend with in-store experiences, like encountering difficult customers.

Yet, amidst the challenges, there’s a beacon of hope for small businesses. Consider the inspiring success story of the Instant Pot, which achieved a staggering 90% of its global sales through online orders. This triumph demonstrates that SMEs still have a unique space to flourish, provided they adapt to the evolving landscape.

Yet, it’s essential to consider a significant aspect: the reliance on informal traders in South Africa. Many still prefer the convenience of traditional markets over online platforms, driven by concerns over trust and familiarity. Moreover, these traders operate predominantly in cash, reflecting a deep understanding of their market.

Books like ‘Kasinomics’ brilliantly illuminate the unique value proposition of our local vendors. They cater to their clientèle’s specific needs, such as selling half a cabbage instead of whole ones favoured by retail giants. This underscores the importance of recognising that while online shopping gains trust and popularity, there remains a crucial role for small businesses, whose personalized service and tailored offerings are irreplaceable.

In essence, the ability to adapt to changing times is not just important; it’s vital for survival in any business venture. Small businesses must leverage their unique strengths and agility to navigate the evolving landscape, ensuring their relevance alongside the rise of online giants. This call to action underlines our urgent and collective responsibility to support and sustain our local businesses, the backbone of our economy.


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