Starting an online shop in South Africa is simple ONLY IF you plan ahead and use the right tools. Online shopping feels different from walking into a real brick building. Your online shop has to compensate for this.

Your customer has to feel that buying from you is safe and secure, no matter what you sell.

Before we continue, just some good advice – stay away from ready-to-buy dropshipping websites. It does not work. That’s all we will say on dropshipping because the focus here is your own shop.

 

Stock

You will need products/services to sell, or should at least be able to get it without delay, once a customer orders it. An online shop cannot exist without anything to sell.

Product Images

The images you use for your shop will make all the difference. High-quality images on white backgrounds work best. It is the standard for all online shops. A pure white background allows for a customer to focus his attention on the product without distractions. High-quality images also create trust in your product and your business. If it looks bad, why would I spend money with you?

Products photographed from various angles also help customers to get an overall visual of the item.

Below are two images of the same product for sale, from Shop A and Shop B. Now as a customer, which shop would you rather buy from online? 

Shop A

Shop B

Product Information

Again, because your eshop is not a brick-built building, you have to ensure that your customers are given every bit of information about the product that might convince them to buy it from you.

Products should have a description, e.g.

BiC lighters work perfectly every time and has a 30 year long successful history in lighting braai fires and cigarettes around the country 

Brand:  BiC Lighter
Size:  Small (5cm x 3cm)
Colour:  Black
Keep away from children
Store below 50 degrees celcius 

Payment Portals

Your eshop has to include a payment facility for customers to purchase products/services from you. Most commonly you can select COD and EFT.

For payments with Visa and Master cards, we recommend PayFast, a local South African supplier.  Create a free account and apply to be a merchant. PayFast provides a secure online payment facility for customers when they order your products.  Big names like Takealot.com use PayFast.

Money is stored in your PayFast account and can be transferred to your regular bank account on a weekly basis.

Shipping

Decide how your products will be send to customers. What service(s) will you use, how much will it cost the customer and how soon can they get their items? These are all questions you have to answer and plan for.

Based on your choices, the website will be designed around your shipping methods.

Website Preparation

The next step is to prepare for a website. Like any regular website, your website will need some content, a contact form, refund policies, terms and conditions, etc.

Your website will need a home page to talk about your business and what it is that you sell, unless you plan to aggressively market your website.

A website like Takealot.com does not need much content other than product listings. They have spent millions in marketing to get their brand name out there. You possibly might not have this kind of marketing budget, therefore your website has to do all the marketing it can to attract customers through search engines like Google and Bing.

Visit smaller online shops to see what information they contain and how you can improve on yours.

Social Media

Register your business profile on the social media platforms that are suited to your needs. You don’t have to register for all of them, unless you plan to use it. Select the portals that makes sense for your business.

You don’t have to post anything, but setup the portals as they will integrate with your website. These portals will also help to market your business online.

Be sure to list your business on Google Maps and Google Business. Facebook is highly recommended for all businesses, but Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. is up to you.

Building the eShop

Only now are you ready to start looking at building a website with an eshop. There are many types of eshop portals to select from. The most popular is Shopify and WooCommerce. Both offer benefits and disadvantages, so it is up to you and/or your web designer to select the best tool for the job at hand.

If you plan to use Shopify, head on over to their website and sign up for an account. They will help you to register a domain name with hosting. However, note that they register .com domain names, which we personally feel is detrimental for you since a .com doesn’t rank as well in South Africa as a .co.za domain name.

If you select WooCommerce, you need to install WordPress, followed by the WooCommerce plugin. But first, you will need to register a .co.za domain name and obtain website hosting.

All the planning and preparation you have done up to this point will make the actual web design and product loading much easier since the information and images are on hand.

Marketing

Your brand new website needs customers. For this reason, you will have to market your website to family friends and everyone else you know. This is free marketing and you should make full use of it.

Also, set a budget aside for online marketing with Facebook paid ads and Google ads. Launch your shop with a promotion or discount voucher to attract customers.

Remember, marketing doesn’t guarantee you sales, but it guarantees that your business name gets out there. The more often a brand is spotted, the more it will stick in the mind of a shopper and when ready, they will seek out the shop they can remember best. So keep marketing – you are investing in your business.

A website will naturally market itself (organic SEO) but this takes a very long time to build up (6 months and more). Paid advertising is essential to launch your business.

Receiving Orders

You will not have to access the website to fulfill orders, so this is helpful for those who do not wish to get involved with the website itself.

When a customer places an order, you will receive an email from your website with all the order, contact and payment details.

From this point forward how you process the order is up to you and the systems you put in place for your business.

Conclusion

To start an online shop in South Africa, or anywhere else for that matter, requires great planning and preparation. If done correctly, your products will sell.

Building an eshop/website is complex and although you might be tempted to build it yourself, we urge you to rather let a Web Designer do it for you. Once done, you can always manage/update the site yourself.