If there’s anything that businesses learned the past few months, it’s that going digital and harnessing the power of the internet and an ever growing digital world is the way forward. With a national 5-week lockdown, the recent protests and looting, and a struggling public transportation system preventing workers from reaching their place of work, businesses have been forced to close their doors on multiple occasions. But closed doors can’t mean a closed business. Digitising business operations is an effective way to ensure that business, consumer and employer needs are still met. 

Here are a few ways that businesses can use the internet and digital capabilities to their advantage in a turbulent environment. 

Points of sale

Research from Mastercard recently found that 95% of South African consumers consider using at least one emerging payment method, such as cryptocurrency, biometrics, contactless or QR payments. This adoption of contactless payments is unsurprising given the need for restricted contact amidst a global pandemic. What’s further interesting is that 66% respondents of the Mastercard study indicated that they tried these payment methods even though they would not have done so under normal COVID-free circumstances. 

According to Craig Vosburg, chief product officer at Mastercard, the pandemic made people think differently, partly out of necessity. 

“To deliver the choice and flexibility that consumers need – and increasingly expect – retailers worldwide need to offer a range of payment solutions that are easy to access and always on. As we look ahead, we need to continue to enable all choices, both in-store and online, to shape the fabric of commerce and make the digital economy work for everyone.”

The overarching findings were that consumers find biometric payments to be more trustworthy, QR codes to be cleaner and more convenient, and contactless cards and digital wallets are more popular. This indicates a clear trend in consumer payment behaviours, driving retailers to re-evaluate their payment options at points of sale. This need for contactless, digital first payments will only increase and it’s up to retailers to move ahead with the latest technology, enabling sales to continue as usual. 

Online shopping

As brick-and-mortar stores faced forced closures due to the national lockdown in 2020, online sales in the country grew by 66%, topping R30.2 billion. While the coronavirus boom will in all likelihood not be repeated in 2021, expectations are still high for online retailers with R42 billion in online sales expected. These numbers are enough proof that consumers are online and ready to spend. The migration from brick-and-mortar shopping to online spending is undeniable and retailers will be challenged to keep up with the journey. 

For businesses looking to make the jump, online “marketplaces” are a good place to start. According to Business Insider, “the basic concept behind “marketplaces” is, in theory, simple, and not too dissimilar to that of the traditional bricks and mortar model of selling on consignment”. The main benefits of these marketplaces are shelf space and visibility, an important combination when you’re looking to gain traction and sell online. 

“The big online stores list your products almost as if they were sourced by themselves, and handle some of the complex logistics associated with selling products online – things like product warehousing, deliveries, returns, and online payments.” 

In exchange, these marketplaces receive some of the profits of a sale or ask a membership fee. Using the service of an already established online e-commerce platform is a good place for retailers to start before venturing into their own independent stores. From there, the possibilities are immense. Large retailers Woolworths, Checkers, and more recently, Dis-Chem now successfully run both physical stores as well as online stores and apps with fast delivery and turnaround times. 

Harnessing the power of social media

Having any sort of social media presence is key to reaching large audiences and placing your business in front of interested parties. According to Scott Thwaites, head of emerging markets for TikTok Global Business Solutions, adopting new digital tools and digital marketing tactics are helping many SMEs to connect with new customers. 

“Establishing a strong online presence is not only a company’s key to accessing a much wider market, but it can also be achieved in a very affordable manner. This means that even companies that have to work with tight marketing budgets are able to get maximum impact if they embrace the right digital tools.”

Social media is free to most brand accounts, unless you invest in a dedicated paid marketing strategy, and offers a great way to reach potential customers even when they are secluded in their homes. With print media slowly evaporating from people’s minds, businesses need to adapt in order for them to remain relevant.