SACSC study shines a light on South African social media and retail

If only 18% of South Africans own a computer then how come one in three has access to the Internet? 

This is one of the questions answered in a comprehensive research report commissioned by the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC). Quirk Education compiled the revealing report titled Social Media Marketing in South African Shopping Centres.

“It’s cell phones,” says Amanda Stops, CEO of the SACSC. “Some 84 percent of South Africans own a cell phone. That’s how more and more people are going online while on the move.”

Of these Internet-savvy South Africans, three-quarters are signed up to at least one social media network – like Facebook, Twitter, Mxit and LinkedIn – making these networks significantly more popular than email, which comes in at 66%.

And the role our online social life is playing in our daily life is growing apace, particularly in South Africa’s favourite places – our shopping malls – which are the most frequently visited public spaces in the country.

“The research shows the average shopper visits malls 38 times a year and spends 80 minutes on average per trip,” says Stops. “Increasingly, when we go shopping we take our online lives with us too. Along with airports, shopping centres are the most checked-in venues for South African Facebook users.”

When the SACSC commissioned its detailed survey of 100 local shopping centres, it came up with some fascinating figures about how South Africa’s favourite hang-outs are using South Africa’s favourite online pastime to engage with customers. For instance, an impressive 59% of social media users actively follow brands. In addition, 27% actually discovered unknown brands via social media.

But what social sites are South Africans loving most of all? 

First to the post is Mxit, with its 10 million active users making it the country’s most popular social media platform. Curiously though, the massive Mxit phenomenon has not been tapped into by the retail sector. Stops reports that only one in five large brands using it as a marketing tool.

Facebook is huge too, with 6,8 million South Africans accessing the site via their phones, and it’s still growing, as is the microblogging site Twitter, which has around 2,4 million local tweeters, collectively tweeting 15 million times every month.

Of particular interest to the SACSC is how our shopping centres are harnessing this trend though – or not harnessing it, as the case may be. Of the 100 malls surveyed, 65 percent had an active Facebook presence and 45 percent were on Twitter, while 43 percent use email newsletters to talk to their customers.

The king of Facebook is Canal Walk, with 72,134 “likes” at the time of writing, followed by Monte Casino, Melrose Arch, Galleria Mall in Amanzimtoti and V&A Waterfront.

Sandton City is winning the Twitter race with over 12,000 followers, followed by V&A Waterfront, Melrose Arch, Gateway Theatre of Shopping and Monte Casino.

“But it’s more about shops online than online shopping at the moment,” says Stops.

While the proportion of people actually buying via social media is still only 12%, globally it is growing. South Africa isn’t far behind the curve. For instance, nearly 10% of local Mxit users actively spent their virtual “Moola” currency in a 30-day window.

In addition we like shopping sociably, even when alone, with 50% of Africans, referring to social media to help them decide what to buy.

So then, what could be next for shopping centres in South Africa? 

“Wi-Fi presents a huge opportunity,” says Stops. “Because of the massive numbers of South Africans who rely on their cell phones for Internet access, we should increasingly see shopping centres providing customers with free, fast in-house Wi-Fi networks.”

And then there are bespoke Apps, which can be created to allow innovative malls like Woodlands Boulevards Shopping Centre in Pretoria to take a technological leap forward. The groundbreaking Woodlands’ App meant shoppers could scan anything they liked at shops within the centre, so creating a gift registry that they could then share with friends online.

Overseas, tailor-made Apps have been used for everything from receiving special offers to helping customers find a lost car in the parkade!

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