By Nick Durrant, Bluegrass Digital Managing Director
It’s that time of year again, when the technology seers and trendspotters start pontificating on what they believe will be the transformative or shape-shifting technologies for the year ahead. Bluegrass Digital strives to keep a finger on the proverbial pulse, and with a dynamic and forward-thinking client base, we have some thoughts of our own on what we believe will drive the digital scene in the South African market in 2014.
One of the fundamental elements to most of the emerging technology trends is the increasing dependence on (and popularity of) mobile devices. As smartphones, tablets and notebooks become cheaper and more prevalent, coupled with the declining cost of data, more and more people are using their mobile devices to go online and shop, make payments, use social media, and stay atop of their work commitments. In South Africa, where there is over 120% mobile penetration and more active SIM cards than there are people – mobile is becoming a focal point for retailers, marketers, advertisers and indeed most businesses who are looking to capture eyeballs (i.e. market share). Depending on your business or service, the emphasis on mobile will mean different things. For example, if you’re a marketer, you will need to look into mobile banner ads and Location Based Services (LBS). If you’re a restaurant or retailer, you may want to look into geo-tagging and creating a compelling mobi site. The first step, however, is to recognise the fundamental importance of mobile in being able to effectively reach and communicate with the South African consumer.
Although e-commerce has been around for many years now, the take-up in South Africa has been fairly slow compared to the US and European markets. This is largely due to the high cost of bandwidth and relatively few retailers presenting a strong online offering. However, we believe that the local e-commerce industry is kicking into a higher gear now, with major retailers such as Woolworths ramping up their digital presence and pressuring others to follow suit. In addition, as bandwidth becomes more affordable and South Africans become more comfortable transacting both on PCs and on increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, many believe that local e-commerce is set to boom.
Indeed, former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan, renowned for driving innovation on the digital front, has commented that in the near future, e-commerce “…will just become the normal way of doing business”. And the numbers certainly support this sentiment, with one study pointing to a 12.95% a year growth in local e-commerce transactions, and local consultancy World Wide Worx finding that in 2013, South Africans were on course to spend as much as R4.2 billion online (excluding air tickets). According to Luke McKend, country director for Google South Africa, SA is forecasted to have 29.8 million Internet users by 2016, with a whopping 25% increase in online spend anticipated for 2013. On the global front, Goldman Sachs has predicted that e-commerce sales would reach $963billion by 2013 and grow at 19.4%. So this is certainly a space to watch closely, and retailers would be well advised to ensure that they have a clear-cut digital strategy in place.
Social Media: Google+ on the Up
Unsurprisingly, social media is set to gain an even stronger foothold in the digital realm, but we believe that 2014 will be the year in which local businesses of all sizes and sectors will fully embrace the medium as both a business strategy and communications tool. And given the numbers, this is a clear ‘no brainer’ for corporates, who have a fast growing and captive audience at their fingertips.
According to World Wide Worx’s recent social media study, Twitter has grown by 129% in the year to August 2013 – from 2.4 million to 5.5 million users in SA (South Africans post 54 million tweets a month, with 85% of these originating from mobile devices). There are now 9.4 million South Africans on Facebook, 2.7 million registered on LinkedIn, and 466 828 active Google+ users. While each of these networks are important for enterprises for various reasons, we believe that Google+ is set to become a major player in the Business to Business marketing space, providing tools and platforms that arguably make it more relevant and beneficial for the enterprise environment.
Indeed, 2014 might well be the year in which Google+ emerges as a critical business tool, so we encourage local enterprises to become comfortable with this platform and build a strong presence in the network.
While staying abreast of a rapidly evolving digital environment (with fast developing tools and technologies) may seem daunting, it is certainly worth the time and investment for businesses to ensure that they remain ahead of the curve.