The e-commerce industry in South Africa is fraught with limitations, which, if addressed adequately, can bring economic benefits to the country as a whole, writes Trevor Ndobela, MD Quarphix Corporation.
There are approximately 50-million people in South Africa, yet only 5-million have the resources to buy or sell online. Although mobile phone penetration remains exponentially high, e-commerce is not easily facilitated on a cellular device.
This presents a problem for users without a personal computer (PC) or Internet access, both of which are vital for online buying or selling to take place.
Although various PC manufacturers do provide free access to PCs in certain areas, use and support is limited within office hours. The use of Internet cafés is also restricted by operating hours and those that do stay open till late can only provide Internet at lowered quality and speed due to congestion issues.
The one way to open up this market is to provide low-cost refurbished computers (both desktops and laptops) to the masses. The “death of the desktop” will not come to Africa, because before it dies, it has to have lived. The emphasis has to remain on lowering devise costs as these are still largely unaffordable for much of the population.
Suppliers therefore have to shift focus from making a quick buck to playing a volumes game, thus creating a larger customer base for budding local online entrepreneurs.
E-commerce can only flourish in an environment where users are provided the opportunity to trade online without worrying about the cost and quality of speed when accessing and downloading content from the Internet.
As such, more pressure from ICASA should be exerted on Internet service providers (ISPs) to lower access costs and improve the bandwidth capacity if a whole new online industry is to be created – at least within the African online space.
Judging from the current international phenomenon created by the likes of Google and Facebook, the encouragement and empowerment of local entrepreneurs to enter the e-commerce market is guaranteed to generate an economic "boom" for South Africa and Africa as a whole.
South Africa’s 2020 vision is by no means an impossible dream; however, it is currently at risk of not being realised should people not create a conducive environment that will benefit them all.