The future is online shopping

2010-08-03 00:00

THE world’s biggest bookseller Amazon.com, sold twice as many digital books as it did hard covers last month and so far this year it has sold three times as many ebooks as it had by this time last year.

Okay, so who buys hard covers these days anyway? Sure, not many, but the point will come very, very soon when not only Amazon but all the other online book retailers sell more digital versions than paperbacks.

And the reason is simple: digital books are half the price if not very much cheaper than any­thing printed on paper. Right now one can get a best seller for round about R80 and the complete works of William Shakespeare for about R15.

I now only read ebooks because I travel a lot and I can get new books wherever I am in the world, downloaded for free thanks to Amazon’s no-charge 3G connection on my Kindle reader. And I don’t have to schlep a ton of books about in my baggage.

The rate at which consumers are switching to ebooks would scare the daylights out of me if I were a book retailer, particularly with products such as Apple’s iPad being snapped up by their millions.

But, it’s not only books. Just about anything that is imported into South Africa and sold through retailers here is now available quite legally online. Payment is safe and everything coming in clears customs with import duties all paid as part of the purchase package. Everything very legal and above board.

And with more global manufacturers now honouring warranties on online sales, local service centres can’t keep on turning you away when you need something serviced. Some will try the old “we don’t service grey imports” line but I have the feeling that’s not going to wash for much longer.

Talk to some avid online shoppers and you will hear about everything from top brand watches available online at a third of the price here along with cameras and all sorts of other electronic equipment.

Operations such as Amazon have secure payment processes down to a fine art and delivery by top courier companies is extremely efficient.

I am not suggesting for a minute that online shopping is going to put our retailers out of business tomorrow, because relatively few South Africans have access to the Internet or credit cards, which seem to be essential to the process.

But, I am suggesting that importers, distributors and retailers of imported goods like books, cameras, watches, cellphones, music players and a host of other electronic goods, should start thinking about how they are going to keep convincing local customers to make the trip to a shopping mall to buy something at twice the price.

Thanks to Telkom and our government’s inability to understand the importance of a low- cost and accessible broadband Internet, I get the feeling that South African retailers and importers don’t yet see the need to start looking at their pricing and profit margins or developing incentives to keep their customers shopping locally instead of heading off into the clouds for better deals.

Add to all this the fact that more and more products in South Africa are now more expensive than those in other countries — a complete reversal of what used to be the case — and it makes one wonder just what sort of an impact this will have on our retailers. My bet is that it won’t be long before the greedy ones start hurting.

— News 24.

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