How to start an online store in South Africa is probably a question that has gotten more common with individuals and businesses. This is due to the global corona outbreak in 2020, every one is forced to look at more ways to make money to make ends meet.
You can’t count on your current employer to keep heads afloat any more, people are loosing jobs and their sources of income left and right so the idea of starting an online store seems much more appealing to everyone than ever before.
Or maybe you dreamt about starting an online store in South Africa even before the outbreak?
If so, just look at the global e-commerce statistics in 2018, 1.8 Billion people shopped online with a total sales of 2.8 trillion Dollars!
That is massive! But not done yet, projections are looking at tapping out at $4.8 trillion by the end of 2021. It’s enough to blow you away.
If we look at South Africa we are a bit behind the rest of the world but in our terms we are doing really well online. Only 1.4% of all retail in South Africa are e-commerce-based and a projected growth of R20 billion rand of online sales at the end of the year (2020). I think we are on track and doing ok.
One thing is very apparent here and that is –
The market is far from being saturated. So, there are still enough room for a lot more online retailers like you and me.
Now we know there is more than enough room to start an online store in South Africa, how do one actually go about starting one?
Glad you asked because I am about to show you in 5 actionable steps.
5 Actionable steps to start an online store in South Africa
1. Research and what products to sell
If you don’t already own a brick and mortar store and don’t produce your own products, it can be quite difficult coming up with an idea to what to sell online. Trust me, I’ve been there. So, how do you decide what to sell if you don’t know?
You can start with research and find out what sells well in South Africa. The main thing here is to remember not to jump head first in to a competitive market like fashion. It is super competitive and you are going to struggle to beat the more established retailers.
Rather focus on a niche specific part of fashion like baby undies or baby boxers. This is very specific and it will help dial in your marketing strategy.
Don’t just jump at the first opportunity that comes your way, remember you are going to spend money for products and probably marketing too. Test the waters with friends and family, if they like it start with a small quantity of stock before releasing your store in to the wild.
You can always use Google trends to see what trends at the moment. This helps a lot to build stores around trendy products.
If you don’t want to follow trends and would rather focus on your passions, this is a great way to help you decide but you should still do enough research around the products.
If you can sell products with high-demand and low competition, you have a winner. It does not matter if you have passion for the product and no one is looking for it or the competition is so high your online store does not stand a chance of ranking on popular search engines like Google or Bing.
Building the store is not the issue here, it is the easy part. I will show you how in a minute. The main issue is for you to understand what you are selling and to whom you are going to sell it to.
This should be your main focus before worrying about technology.
Cost and shipping
Don’t undercut yourself, make sure you know your product in and out. The margins you have to play with when running promotions on your store and most importantly what shipping are you going to use and the cost.
There are multiple companies you can use in South Africa and the ones I can recommend and used myself are –
The choices are unlimited and some companies will give you a better rate when you reach minimum orders of R5000 or so.
2. What is the best platform to start an online store in South Africa?
There is no doubt that we are spoilt rotten when it comes to choosing platforms we can sell products on, some good and some not so much. I have been around the block a couple of times and I can honestly say you have two viable options here.
Keep in mind both will cost money and you get what you pay for especially if you go for a free platform.
WordPress and WooCommerce. Both these platforms are open source and free to use. This option is great for someone starting out with a limited budget and the willingness to learn a new skill. I also have to add here, it will take some time getting used to as you will have to put in the hours to figure things out. Luckily, the community and the tutorials around WordPress and WooCommerce are very helpful, and I am pretty sure you will find what you’re looking for by doing a quick search on YouTube.
WordPress works by installing themes and I can recommend one theme and that is the Flatsome theme. It is the number one e-commerce theme for WordPress.
Why the Flatsome theme?
Well, for starters if you have a limited budget you can get your hands on the theme for a once of fee of $59. This is a major advantage over multiple online stores charging a monthly fee plus transactional fees.
So, What will the Flatsome theme build on WordPress set me back every month? This is a great question and for most people starting out not sure if they will be able to afford monthly payment. You don’t have to worry about anything because your store won’t cost you a cent.
That is right, if you don’t sell anything your store won’t cost you a thing. You have to remember WordPress is self-hosted and you will need hosting for your store and this will cost a few Rands a month.
If you are going local (co.za) I can, prefer a company called Domains. You can get some hosting from them for as little a R100 a month. This will also include a free domain worth R90 plus a free SSL certificate.
Another point to mention here is that every payment gateway in South Africa works by making their money from charging you a fee per transaction happening on your website. So, this is also important to remember when choosing a platform.
What features does Flatsome theme have?
This is where the Flatsome theme shines. You will be able to build an amazing store without any special skills and coding knowledge. It makes use of UX builder which is a revolutionary front end builder.
These tools will let you build awesome looking pages, sliders, banners and super fast product pages all on the front end. What this means is, You can see your changes in real time.
This is not all, the Flatsome theme comes with a library of 30 content elements, 9 shop elements and 5 layout elements. This is a major as it will make it effortless for anyone to drag and drop an element and create whatever they want.
The Flatsome theme is also optimized for SEO and loads super fast to give the ultimate user experience. The theme also comes with loads of “how to documentation and videos” to help anyone figure out if something is tripping them up.
Try out the Flatsome theme here.
Try the fastest growing e-commerce platform in the world – Shopify. Shopify is platform specifically focused on selling online. There is no doubt that Shopify made it super easy to sell online. Anyone would be able to sell anything in a matter of minutes.
What are the Shopify features?
Shopify is a cloud-based platform so it means you don’t need self-hosting. Everything is built online. It is also based on a drag a drop model and changes are being made in real time.
The features include –
- Massive library of themes to choose to fit your style, both premium and free
- Fully customizable web design
- Add products quickly
- Support most payment gateways.
- Large library of apps to add to your website.
Although you have access to all these wonderful features, Shopify however comes with a price as they work on a monthly subscription model.
Shopify pricing –
- Basic – $29 p/m plus 2% per online transaction
- Main Shopify $79 p/m plus 1% per online transaction
- Advanced Shopify $299 p/m plus 0.5 per online transaction
What do you get with the pricing?
It’s also important to note that you will be able to start your online store in South Africa right now for free on Shopify. They do offer a free 14-day trial to new entrepreneurs trying to figure things out first.
What do I think what is best?
Well, both platforms comes with various advantages and disadvantages and for most people starting out, the price would be the biggest deciding factor. I am a WordPress web designer so using a theme like Flatsome theme to start an online store in South Africa is a no-brainer but for someone just starting out and have the money to spend, I would go for Shopify purely because of the ease of use.
If you are planning to add a blog as a content marketing strategy I would go for WordPress and the Flatsome theme.
Let’s do a quick comparison what each will cost you, maybe then you can form decision based on the cost.
Flatsome theme and WordPress
- Flatsome – $59 Once off (R1026) During time of writing.
- Hosting – R100 p/m
- PayFast (Payment gateway) transactions – 3.5% per transaction plus R2 (Promotional Rate)
- Shopify – Zero setup fee
- Shopify Basic plan – $29 p/m (R505 p/m) During time of writing.)
- Shopify’s transaction fee 2.0%
- Payfast’s transaction fee 3.5% plus R2 (Promotional Rate)
You can clearly see that Shopify will cost you insignificantly more than going the WordPress route. This where you have to decide if you want to trade money for time learning a new CMS like WordPress.
In the end, there is really no wrong here but it will come down to individual preference and budget.
If you have current business selling products in any way go with Shopify as your business can cover the running costs Shopify comes with.
That’s my two cents.
Want to learn how to start a Shopify Store? ⇓
3. Deciding on a name and registering your business.
This is without mention but your new store needs a business name and registration. You can use a company like Domains.co.za to check if your name is available for registration. If it is, well, congratulations.
If not, try to stick to something relevant to your products and services. If you can come up with something catchy even better because we here in South Africa loves a bit of humour.
Here are 4 things to consider when choosing a name –
- Try to be an original as possible and not copy some else’s name or parts of it.
- Keep it as relevant as possible to the products
- Make it as easy to remember as possible.
- Also, as easy to pronounce as possible
If you need to register your new business I have partnered with a lawyer firm called Oden Law, and they are willing to put in the work for you at R1600 all-inclusive. If you contact them today and add the promotional code “WEBNOMADS” they will give you R300 off your registration.
That is a great deal!
4. What payment gateway is the best?
This is an excellent question and there are a lot of them in South Africa. A payment gateway goes together with starting an online store in South Africa. The payment gateway handles all the payments on your website.
This is obvious, but what is more important is to choose a gateway that is very secure as they handle very sensitive information like credit card details and if I can recommend one, I would go with Payfast.
Payfast is a super secure online payment gateway that is easy to sign up for and even easier to integrate with your online store whether it is WordPress or Shopify.
Payfast offers your clients up to 7 payment options like credit and cheque cards, instant eft, Masterpass, Mobicred, Zapper, debit card and Scode.
It is also free to sign-up with Payfast and their customer support is excellent (I have used it a couple of times)
Payouts are directly to whatever bank account you add to your profile and within 48 hours.
If Payfast is not for you, you can look at the following payment gateways.
I am not familiar with the above mentioned, so I cannot vouch for them.
You are free to choose which ever you want to work with, just find a hassle-free solution for you and your new business. No need to overcomplicate things with technicalities and strict sing-up processes.
Before you go ahead and sign-up with a payment processor, it is also advisable to phone or email them about the certain products you are going to sell in your store. Many of payment gateways do not support certain stores selling products like CBD products.
So, do your due diligence before signing up.
5. Advertising your online store in South Africa
Awesome, you have an online store in South Africa and now is the time to promote the crap out of it. If you want your store to succeed in a very competitive market it is a great option to start thinking about building a brand.
Building a brand is the ultimate way to sell goods as people buy from trusted brands and love to be associated by them.
Just think about it for a second, even if your product is average but your brand make people feel good when they buy it, you will always have sales. But, this is not what you are looking for. You want to sell excellent products connected to a well associated brand people love.
You can have a look at this article by Shopify on how to build a brand from scratch.
Let’s look at some ways you can promote your online store in South Africa.
This is very obvious but powerful. Create a Facebook page and share it with everyone. Make sure to post regularly and relevant information. Also, it is important to note you should not try to promote products every day. You should post information which will help people solve a problem or add value to their lives.
You can start a Facebook ads campaign, this is by far the best way to drive traffic to your store. Facebook’s ads are extremely cheap in South Africa. I am talking 5c to 10c a click if you set up right.
Every online store will fit perfect with a social media platform. Figure out yours and master it to the fullest. Don’t open accounts with all the platforms. You will not be able to get the reach you need by spreading yourself to thin.
You can always try Google Ads to get some traffic to your store. If you advertise with Google, your online store will enjoy the top position in the Google search rankings. Please make sure to watch some videos on YouTube to find out how to use Google Ads to its fullest potential. Otherwise, you will waste money sending the wrong people to your store.
Search Engine Optimization will be your long-term strategy. SEO is the practise of optimizing someone’s site in a way search engines will prefer the content above other websites for the same search term.
Here are a few pointers to consider.
- Make sure you concentrate on providing complete product descriptions with relevant product titles. This is critical as people are searching for products every day.
- Be sure to upload web optimized product images.
- Don’t use a ton of plugins or apps. It will slow down your site speed and Google don’t like slow sites.
- Optimize your Title, Meta and page descriptions.
- Use relevant keywords on your pages and product listings.
These are only a few tips but it is a good start. The point is you should focus on these tips as you go along because you will want to rank organically on Google. Remember, the best rank in Google is on the first page. Second does not even matter.
This is by far my favourite way of marketing online stores in South Africa. Content marketing is a concept of adding value to your online store in example of creating blog post, videos, podcasts or designs.
People are searching for answers every day on Google and if you wrote a blog post on the subject plus its ranking well, the visitor will find your post and read it. You now have the opportunity to link to a product solving the problem of your reader.
This is a powerful strategy you can use, it is hard work but if you are persistent it will pay off in the end.
You can even create cool “how to” videos helping people with a problem or obstacle and just link out to a product or service.
Simple but powerful.
Wrapping it Up
Although it seems like it is very complicated starting an online store in South Africa, it really isn’t. You just need to decide what you want to sell and building the online store is the easy part. So, please don’t let the technology part trip you up.
We are in a place now in time when you need to jump online to make a living. And to be honest, it is a super rewarding getting your first sales. It is an amazing feeling.
So, don’t worry about anything. Follow my tips above or even watch my video how I create an online store in South Africa.
It is simple and easy.
Best of luck.
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