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According to a 2016 report by technology research firm World Wide Worx, the value of online sales in South Africa increased 26% to R7.5bn (US$525m) in 2015 and is expected to double by 2020. As a result, large retailers like Woolworths and Mr Price have introduced e-commerce platforms to operate alongside their brick-and-mortar stores.
Roxanne Page recognised the potential of e-commerce a few years ago. Having spent some time living abroad, she saw the uptake of online fashion retail in markets like the UK and in 2011 she partnered with her mom, Karen Spies, to explore opportunities in South Africa.
Page, who was working in media at the time, began sourcing fashion and lingerie from local designers and hosting trunk shows, where merchandise is presented directly to customers (and their invited guests) in their private homes over weekends.
The experience helped her gain insight into the local design scene and understanding what consumers were looking for, and a year later she launched her online women’s boutique, SassyChic. The platform, which specialises in South African fashion, lingerie and beauty products, has been steadily gaining traction in the market since, and Page (now 30) recently won the title of the National Small Business Champion at the DHL-sponsored 2016 South African Small Business Awards.
Taking on the giants
Page wasn’t the only one to spot the opportunities for e-commerce in South Africa. SassyChic launched at the same time as major online fashion players entered the market. These include Zando, followed by Spree (owned by Africa’s largest media company, Naspers) and Superbalist (acquired in 2015 by online retail giant Takealot – which in turn is part-owned by Naspers).
So how did an e-commerce start-up manage to blossom alongside major competitors with deep pockets? According to Page, it involved a combination of clever marketing, a focus on customer experience, and a distinct offering.
Page had a small budget, so in the beginning she relied on word-of-mouth marketing and her knowledge of search engine optimisation (SEO). One of the ways she did this was by approaching influential bloggers and getting them to review and test her service. Her site also has its own blog, offers discounts to customers who refer friends, and makes use of social media marketing to target certain consumer groups. In addition, consumers are encouraged to register on the platform for a R100 discount on their first purchase.
Page also had a lucky break. When Candice Abrahams ran for the title of Mrs South Africa 2016, SassyChic sponsored the contestant. Abrahams went on to win the title, as well as Mrs World 2016 – providing the store with huge exposure.
When it comes to the customer experience of receiving an order, SassyChic aims to give its customers a thrill similar to that of receiving a gift.
“I know, as an online shopper, that receiving a parcel is like a present from me to me. I believe in that experience… So part of our marketing strategy is including thank you cards with all of our purchases, as well as little gifts. We have little soaps and hand creams that we give with all of our purchases so that people get that personalised touch and gift feeling,” explains Page.
SassyChic also offers free delivery – which Page says is the company’s greatest expense. However, she notes that research shows high delivery fees as being one of the top reasons that people don’t follow through with payment, or that they decide to ‘abandon cart’.
“Even though we are a smaller company, I can’t not be offering some form of free delivery with a minimum order spend, when every single one of my other competitors is doing it. It is the biggest drawcard for people.”
However, Page believes the best decision she made for SassyChic was distinguishing the platform from competitors by focusing on South African designers and showcasing products that were not mass-produced, and therefore easy to find on other platforms.
The next step, she adds, will be to develop SassyChic’s own in-house brand.
“I always swore I would never have my own business. But when I reached a certain age, the bug bit like it had with all my family.”
Page grew up in family of entrepreneurs – with her mother, father, step-father and step-mother all running their own businesses. For this reason, she knew too well the risks, challenges and headaches associated with starting a company – and admits to being put off by them in the beginning.
“It is not a nine-to-five and there is no guarantee of a pay cheque every month,” she explains.
“In many ways it is easier to get a degree, then a job, and be safe. But as I got older I learned that that is not who I am… I definitely like to do things my own way and that doesn’t really work when you have a boss.”
Her advice to others looking to enter entrepreneurship is to make sure they are self-motivated.
“There is no one there giving you a bonus or pat on the back if you do something well… You have to be a self-starter.”