Alastair Tempest on trust at the speed of the internet [interview]
by ORiSA. Alastair Tempest, Ecommerce Forum of Africa CEO, is a man on a mission. His goal is to increase shoppers’ trust in ecommerce and to drive the growth of online retail in Africa. Why? Because thriving consumer (B2C) ecommerce typically precedes the big numbers that come in the form of business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce. Tempest answers four big questions about online retail.
ORiSA: Why is trust an issue with local online retail?
Alastair Tempest: Trust has always been an issue regarding ecommerce. This is because, when a shopper buys something online, you can’t feel it. This was always an issue with distance-selling. When you cannot touch, or smell, or try on something you’re going to purchase, you need to believe that what you see is what you’ll get when the parcel arrives. In a physical store, you can experience an item, [and] walk away if you’re not satisfied. But, with buying online, the difficulty is that the product arrives and it isn’t the kind you want. Online, when it says a product is 100% wool, you need to know that’s what you’ll get.
ORiSA: Why is online trust a big issue locally, in comparison to places like Europe or North America?
AT: Distance-selling has been a big part of the culture and historical narrative in places like Europe and Canada, because of established companies, like Reader’s Digest (which I once worked for), that helped establish trust through distance-selling. As a child, I was brought up by an aunt who was born in the late 1890s in Colorado Springs. She remembered seeing homes which had been bought from a Sears & Roebuck catalogue being pulled across the prairies by oxen. You bought your house with everything in it — from the linen to the cooker and everything else. The buyer placed it on his plot of land or ranch. The Wild West was founded on distance-selling and, so in the US, you find that this is part and parcel of culture — of what people know.
This kind of distance-selling didn’t happen in South Africa, so locally there was no tradition to build on. So, people question whether they’re going to get what they wanted. And whether what arrives will be as good as what it looks like online. They wonder whether their Visa or Mastercard data are safe. Yet people don’t bring the same degree of consideration to handing out their transactive cards to petrol attendants, or waitrons — or even to buying services, like travel tickets, online.
The good news, though, is that over time the trust challenge is eradicated by use. The more people go online and buy, the more they have a great experience, the more the issue of online trust goes away. You just need to get over the first significant psychological hurdles.
ORiSA: What is the role of online retailers? How can they help build trust?
AT: Research shows that customers ‘showroom’ and ‘webroom’ retailers. ‘Webrooming’ is when people browse online but make their purchase in store. And ‘showrooming’ is where people check out items in a store, and then, after knowing what brands or products they want, buy online. Both of these phenomena require a basic online store, so what we advise retailers is to treat their online store as a second ‘shop window’. This builds trust — something that retailers don’t always grasp, or that is overlooked by retailers sometimes; in my experience, retailers tend to silo their activities. But, for the consumer, the shopping experience is the same. The big challenge for retailers today is to see things the way their customers do — online and offline.
ORiSA: Why is the Ecommerce Forum of Africa pushing to grow ecommerce? What is the long-term goal?
AT: What we’re talking about, here and now, is goods that are sold online to consumers. This is very important but it is the tip of the ecommerce iceberg. The rest is business-to-business and that is massive. B2B ecommerce is exceptionally important for the future of Africa. That’s where the significant, continental growth will come from. But, to get to that point, we need to get the first step right — which is to build trust for customers and businesses. It’s very much an educative issue: in the case of business, to provide training on all the aspects of ecommerce. We like to say that ecommerce is like a watch; what you see is just the face of the watch but behind that are all the working bits, the cogs and springs — like, for example, logistics, reverse logistics (for returned goods), secure online payment, customer service (vital), and research.
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Online Retail in South Africa 2019 (ORiSA) is a study conducted by World Wide Worx and Platinum Seed with the support of Visa, and is endorsed by the Ecommerce Forum of Africa. Marklives.com is the media partner, and Heavy Chef is the learning partner for this initiative, which seeks to actively promote online shopping and the growth of online retail in South Africa. For more info, go to onlineretail.co.za, or download the executive summary.