South African Online Retail Market

If you wanted to buy low cost groceries or small electrical appliances where would you go?

The online retail market is growing extensively in South Africa on a weekly basis, and this is a min case study done a while a go by Adwords guru Tony Roocroft.

Chances are for low cost groceries you would say Pick ‘N Pay. This is an important real world slogan for this large company. If you wanted to buy small electrical appliances off line where would you go to? Maybe Makro and for ladies Spring fashions perhaps Woolworths.

We all know this and the stores mentioned also know this. So why is it that you can not find these stores when you go to the internet and search for the same terms? Try it – search for small electrical appliances on Ananzi.

If you have read Arthur Goldstuck’s latest report about “Online Retail On The Internet 2004” you will have noticed from Arthur’s work that these stores are very prominent when it comes to web retailing in South Africa. Arthur ran long frank interviews with very senior managers responsible for internet marketing efforts and you know something  – not one of them mentioned the importance of search engines as a source of website traffic. This is why none of these stores get found when important search phrases are used to find relevant goods and services. These senior managers have virtually no web experience and all their real world experience is worth little in this new medium.

And am I grateful because it allows me to compete with them and beat them in their own markets at virtually no cost – if I choose to do so.

Large companies like Pick ‘N Pay, Woolworths, and Makro know less about using internet marketing to attract visitors to their websites than most readers of this newsletter, yet they spend vast amounts of money trying to sell on the internet. They do sell but the cost of a sale is enormous because they ignore the power of the internet and treat the consumer as an extension of their own company. They even admit to losing money on their web efforts. I was told by one close source that one of these stores stated their brand is so strong they do not need to do anything else to succeed on the web. This is like saying we can shut down our stores 2 days a week because the customers will come shopping on one of the other 5 days.

These companies do seem to believe that their store or company name is all that counts when it comes to Internet marketing (and of course the proof that this is nonsense is there for all to see). On the web the value of a brand is far less than in the bricks and mortar world.

There are some important opportunities here, the most important of which is to recognize the importance of WII-FM (what’s in it for me) as all those people, who have been to the seminars will appreciate. It matters not one jot if you are Makro and I am using Ananzi to search for “pool tables .on special” because I will never find Makro even though such a product was highlighted as a special on the home page of their website. What a price to pay for company-centricity.

I know from my own websites that some 50% of all visitors to my web sites came directly from a search engine (and I know exactly which one and what search phrase was used), and a large chunk of the other 50% came indirectly via a search engine.

Individual and small company Internet marketers are taking market share away form all large companies worldwide. This trend will grow at an ever increasing pace for the simple reason that these self same individuals and small companies have recognized that the size of the traditional off-line company is actually working against large companies on the Internet. Speed of reaction and flexibility are the hallmarks of successful Internet marketing once the basics of search engine optimization are understood and implemented. And something else, margins are being driven way down too.

Ask yourself a question? Are you also a Makro, Woolworths or Pick ‘N Pay in terms of your Internet marketing efforts? Can you be found by real live people searching for real live products or information using real search terms?

Of course getting found is not the total story so don’t let me even suggest that this is the case because it is not. There is also no point in being number 1 on a search engine if the website is not appealing to the reader and presenting a product or information in a way that will convince the searcher to dig deeper into the site and ultimately buy … here are some other pre-requisites:

Good website/web page copy with appropriate (to the searcher not the seller) information in the headlines

Highly targeted relevant text within the body of the web page

Easily navigable structures

A compelling sales case at the sales landing page  – avoid selling on the home page. Few searchers are looking to buy at this point. Why should they? They don’t yet “know you” nor do they “trust you” and for good reason.

Strong and meaningful guarantees

Timing or seasonal considerations

Look to build trust first and hopefully a sale later – give something like a free download, a product review, a free chapter or access to valuable information. Let the searcher know that you are knowledgeable and worth dealing with. Give them a reason to visit again. Collect the email address in the process with permission to email them with “specials” or a newsletter for example. Work hard to differentiate yourself or company.

When will we ever learn from *YOU*?

The HOME Page is THE MOST IMPORTANT WEB PAGE and more on visitor logs

You agree with me for sure – then why do most home pages not reflect this? In by far the majority of cases they contain meaningless images, hard sell, company information and the like.

The most important reason for any home page is to give people who visit your website the following compelling message:

By coming here *YOU*, Mrs Searcher, will find what *YOU* are looking for. It will make YOU thinner, richer, happier, healthier or the envy of YOUR neighbourhood,  or a non ego-centric benefits rich statement something like that. The home page will then present appropriate links to that sought after information.

This a far better approach than the more familiar (let’s be honest).

We are the biggest, best, and world famous. Our contribution to maximising the return to our shareholders situated in the largest corporate headquarters in Sandton with a board of directors including…

So unless the headline on your home page clearly, unambiguously and quickly presents the right message then chances are the visitor will leave. And by looking at your logs you will be able to see how long the average visitor spends on you site.

Take one of my websites in June – there were 8,650 unique visitors and the average time spent on the site was 183 seconds. Yet and this is the challenge that I face in the ongoing quest to improve traffic and conversion to sales ratios – only 29.7% spent more than 30 seconds on the site. This is just not long enough to do a sufficiently convincing job of creating trust in the eyes of a searcher.

The home page was viewed twice as many times as the next most popular page so this is where web page design improvement must start. Once an improvement is made it will be necessary to check to see if the average time on the site increases and make more changes to this home and other pages as necessary in attempt not to waste these valuable visitors.

In a study of the most successful headlines ever used in advertising about 40% of all headlines contained the words YOU or YOUR. None of the top 10 ever included ME, I, or WE.

It might sound very basic this yet even when when we know this “secret” we continue to use the words I, We, Me far too much. It is difficult not to and in “real life” we can frequently get away with this ego-centric approach but on the web – no it does not work and never will.

Other Home Page Opportunities

Animation in general is distracting and does not work on the Internet as it does in real life. Notice I keep using real life and everybody knows exactly what I mean yet the Internet is now also real life and just not yet considered to be so by many.

There is a sign on the way to Johannesburg International Airport that has a guy apparently hanging onto the billboard for dear life and there is another showing a woman covering her breasts because her bra has apparently been lost. The bra is shown and made from metal or plastic on another part of the billboard. Now there is no doubt that these billboards attract attention if my own experience is anything to go by but for the life of me I do not know what the point of the billboards is because I just look at the attention grabbers and not the message.

Offline marketers know that while driving to the airport you and I are NOT LOOKING for ads so they MUST attract your and my attention to have any chance at all of convincing you of a message. This is how all offline advertising works … it is geared to attracting attention. This is more commonly known these days as DISRUPTION advertising and the majority of consumers are starting to react negatively to the unwanted bombardment

This is a fundamental difference between Internet marketing and real life (there I go again; I mean offline marketing). When a person searches the web they already know what they want and they are not looking for an attractor (or more to the point, a distraction) as described above so a flashing light show, moving cartoon or whatever only serves to annoy the visitor. They want more information, an email address, contact numbers or whatever. They do not want meaningless (in their minds) images and words. And they want it quick.

istraction) as described above so a flashing light show, moving cartoon or whatever only serves to annoy the visitor. They want more information, an email address, contact numbers or whatever. They do not want meaningless (in their minds) images and words. And they want it quick.

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