• South Africans will spend R61 billion at online stores by 2020
  • Online retailers make use of a variety of tricks in order to get users to visit their stores.
  • And their sole purpose is to get you to spend more online.
  • For more go to Business Insider South Africa.

South Africans are spending more at online stores than ever before.

Research by PayPal and Ipsos forecasts that South Africans will spend R61 billion at online stores by 2020.

Although much of this increased spend is dictated by convenience and low costs, online retailers make use of a variety of tricks to get users to visit their stores, and to buy more than initially intended.

These tricks range from exploiting basic human psychology, to using hard data, and even overstating the size of discounts.

They urge you to sign up for newsletters

 One of the most low-tech, but highly influential, ways online shops get users to spend more money more often is to pester them with requests to sign up for a newsletter.

This allows them direct access into your inbox.

Once in possession of your email address, stores will contact you with regular emails about specials, discounts, and other promotions in an attempt to get you back onto their shopping platform.

It’s a widely used technique, and South African stores were quick to adopt it.

Most local stores offer some kind of incentive for signing up for store newsletters.

Takealot promises emails full of “great deals, new products & competitions”. Yuppiechef is much the same, offering email updates on “great deals and the latest products”. And Loot says they’ll send “the latest deals and promos” to your inbox”.

One Day Only is notorious for running widespread newsletter and social media competitions that have a dual purpose of getting people to spread the company name on social media, but also to have new users part with their email addresses. One of the key terms and conditions in many of these competitions is that users must remain signed up for the duration of the promotion.

Other stores offer a cash incentive to sign up to newsletters. Cape Union Mart’s online store, for example, offers first time newsletter subscribers R100 off their next purchase of R500 or more.

All of these signup boxes are either unavoidable popups, or have prominent places on the homepage, indicating just how seriously online stores take their databases.

Using apps

Some local online stores now also allow shoppers to skip the website experience and buy directly from a dedicated mobile app.

Takealot and Superbalist are so eager to get you to download their app that they are running a massive campaign, complete with free vouchers, to attract new users.

Zando will give you 30% off your first purchase if you’re prepared to download and use their new app.

Although stores tout these as tools of convenience, their sole purpose is to get you to spend more online.

That’s because apps are powerful sales convertors for online stores. They’re able to send push notifications directly to your pocket, and can use features already on your phone, such as Bluetooth and GPS.

They also make the process of purchasing items that much easier - free from distractions from competitors just a browser tab away.

Apps can also help stores learn other key data not so easily mined on the desktop stores - things like age, location, and mobile phone type. They can use this data to estimate your income levels and shopping habits, and the more wily stores out there will use this information to target specific users with adverts for specific products.

One-click ordering

Online stores are eager to reduce the number of steps between choosing a product and actually paying for it.

That’s because every step that gets in the way, like entering addresses and credit card numbers, increases the risk that the shopper will come to their senses about the impulse purchase they’re about to make.

Amazon is the king of one-click ordering - a process that allows you to skip the traditional shopping cart page and go straight to giving them your money as soon as you see a product they put before you.

It’s not a trend that’s caught on in a big way in South Africa, yet, but most stores now keep all contact and payment details online in order to reduce the number of steps between browsing and ordering.

“You might also like…” and “Recently browsed” - using your cookies to get you to buy more

E-commerce websites are masters at tracking user habits by depositing cookies on their hard drives. These small nuggets of information tell online stores exactly which products specific users were browsing and thinking about purchasing.

The “recommended” tabs on most e-commerce websites typically start out recommending similar products to the one you’re looking at. But thanks to cookies and browsing history, the more users click around the store, the better they can guess the type of products you might be willing to purchase.

Local online stores like Superbalist also use this information to tempt users to purchase more products, in a constantly evolving “You may also like” section that follows users around the site like a personal sales assistant.

Did you forget something?

The online shopping cart has its roots in the early 90s. But online retailers soon realised that, unlike traditional stores, many users were adding products to their shopping carts and then simply not checking out. 

According to e-commerce store giant Shopify, users abandon between 60-80% of online shopping carts. And online stores are never happy about getting so close, yet so far, to closing the sale.

In order to counter this problem, most South African stores make use of passive-aggressive “Did you forget something?” emails.

Abandoned cart emails is a tool used by online stores around the world, and businesses like Shopify provide a full cheat sheet for online stores to create the ultimate abandoned cart emails to resuscitate lost sales.

These emails arrive automatically several hours after users “abandon” their online carts. They unsubtly encourage them to get back to the important task of handing over their credit card details and finishing the purchase.

Most abandoned cart emails in South Africa make reference to limited stock, and the popularity of the items you added to your cart. But occasionally, this can work in the consumer’s favour - several online retailers are so desperate to close these sales that they’ll email discount codes to people who’ve abandoned their wares.

One Day Only occasionally offers discount coupons to users who abandon their carts. They send out an email a few hours later with the line: “We reckon a further R20 off ought to twist your arm just enough, so here's the code you'll need to input in checkout.”

Inflated retailer prices to increase size of discount

One of South African online stores’ favourite tricks is to make it seem like users are getting amazing deals.

Daily deal sites like One Day Only claim to offer unbeatable discounts on impulse buys. Takealot, Loot and Yuppiechef also offer variations on the theme, with dedicated pages offering seemingly incredible deals, available for a limited time only.

In some cases the deals are, in fact, reasonable. But often online it looks like retailers artificially inflate the percentage discount to make for better reading.

They do this by quoting outdated or plainly inaccurate original retail or list prices, and then proudly proclaim to be offering major discounts. But in many cases, the products are available at the same price, or even cheaper, elsewhere online.

Limited stock alerts

Limited stock alerts are a close cousin of the limited time only sales. South African stores love to close sales by proclaiming that the item you’re looking at is one of just a few remaining, and about to be snapped up by another quicker-clicking shopper.

This call to action is designed to get you to make a faster, more rash decision about the purchase.

In most cases, the urgency is artificial. Stores will restock the items. Or, if not, it may well mean it’s the end of a line that no one else really wanted anyway, and they’re desperately trying to peddle the last of them.

Free shipping, but with minimum spends

Shipping costs are one of the biggest hurdles for online shops. Why pay R50 or R100 for a product when it’s available at traditional stores for the same price?

In order to counter this, online stores in South Africa have worked hard to improve home delivery convenience. But they’ve also cottoned on to a popular shopping trick used elsewhere in the world - free shipping, provided you reach a minimum spend amount.

At launch most online stores in South Africa offered free shipping on all products. This is obviously unsustainable in the long-term, and now, with the odd exception, most local stores now require you to spend at least R250 before they’ll throw in the shipping for free.

On the surface, free shipping, even if it requires you to spend a certain amount, seems like a pretty generous deal. But the mechanics of this tactic are less altruistic than many users think.

The minimum spends are carefully considered to make the purchase worth the online store’s effort, and to encourage users to add just a few more impulse items to their basket.

If the purchase isn’t urgent, it’s probably better collecting a few items in a wish list over time, and then only going ahead with it once the items meet the minimum spend.

Comparison website prices

One of the joys of online shopping is the quick and easy way to compare prices of the same items from various stores. But shoppers should be wary of price comparison websites.

Businesses like Pricecheck and Google Shopping make their money out of referral fees. In other words, their customer is the online store, not the shopper. They often only compare products from stores that sign up for their referral programme, and in some cases lure shoppers from Google search results with artificial pricing that changes once shoppers land on the actual product page.

At best, these price comparison sites should be used as a broad guide of product prices and availability, before conducting a manual check in an incognito tab of the various stores.

Free returns

Returns were another stumbling block for online retailers - particularly those selling clothes.

In order to counter the resistance to buying something shoppers aren’t able to first try on, most stores started offering free returns.

Although it’s a great feature if the item that arrives isn’t quite right, the strategy is less about making shoppers happy, and more about convincing them to make the purchase. And the hope is that even if the item isn’t quite right, shoppers will be tempted to hang onto them once the items actually arrive at their homes.

However, some savvy shoppers use free shipping to their advantage. They purchase more than they need, qualify for free shipping, and then return everything they don’t want via the free returns. In some cases, the stores will still honour the free shipping, even if the revised amount is less than the minimum spend.

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