Just a few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that so many people would be using online channels for so many services. But as people become more comfortable with digital platforms, and with Covid providing a push, the era of the empowered South African digital consumer is now in full swing.

CM.com has published research into online habits in South Africa, uncovering insights into local consumers’ online activity and what it means for businesses.

“The rise in activity related to the online banking and shopping sectors has been well documented, but there’s a gap in knowledge when it comes to what’s happening in other industries,” says James Bayhack, CM.com’s sub-Saharan Africa director.

“Our research covers these areas, and also investigates significant gaps in the local online market that will hopefully help businesses improve customer service, drive growth, and increase reach. Consumers are embracing online for everything, so more industries need to think about how they can meet this demand.”

The report outlines how South Africans are using online channels to purchase tangible and intangible products and services. But it’s about more than e-commerce – online channels are helping businesses streamline operations by allowing customers to do what they used to do in-branch, or via the phone or email.

Consumers have not only come to expect that most goods and services should be available online, they also demand a certain level of service. CM.com’s data reveals that most local businesses selling their products or offering services online are not adequately keeping up with the pace of change in consumer habits and the surge in interest.

The study covers the financial, retail and e-commerce, healthcare, travel and leisure, and e-services sectors, investigating how consumers are responding to businesses’ online efforts. The findings show that some sectors have been enjoying more success than others, and it also outlines key areas where businesses need to improve.

Highlights from the report include:

* 96% of the study’s sample are going online for a variety of activities, including banking (87%), general shopping (62%), grocery shopping (48%), and booking accommodation (43%).

* 41% of the respondents indicated that they prefer Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp as shopping channels, with 24% preferring websites.

* Online channels underdelivering is a barrier to growth – 46% of respondents said that online channels fall short of their service expectations.

* Customers’ key frustrations are linked to a lack of convenience. 52% of respondents said that their biggest frustration when trying to resolve a problem online was getting a delayed response to a query, with 51% indicating that they have to repeat themselves multiple times when they are passed to different agents.

The study also shows that experiencing frustrations online makes customers more likely to switch to a different business. And businesses that can solve these frustrations better than competitors are likely to come out on top.