Understanding the South African mobile consumer


People have been trading since antiquity and the saying “business as usual” is just as powerful as ever. The last couple of years have shaken up the way we do things, and this is because of an irrepressible shift in the balance of power. For the first time in history, consumers are ahead of marketers and advertisers, simply because of their ability to connect.

With incredible computational speed at the palm of their hands, they are able to connect to anywhere on the internet. They are running searches, they are reading content, and they are browsing through your product pages and your social media channels. Most importantly though, they are connecting with each other and they are doing it more easily than ever before in history. They are sharing information and telling stories in just about real time. Mobile phones allow this uninterrupted storytelling to continue because they place the world at the tips of our fingers.

In this constantly connected world, South Africa, with 53 million inhabitants, is swiftly growing up on the digital front. A recent survey by ourmobileplanet.com found that 29 million South Africans use a mobile phone, 20.5 million a smartphone. It’s relatively easy to get a smartphone contract in South Africa and this has been good for our nation’s internet penetration. The study found that of the country’s mobile users, 57% hardly ever use a desktop computer, reinforcing the perspective that mobile is the key to SA’s rapidly evolving digital scene.

Smartphone penetration in SA is at a healthy 40%, putting it above Brazil, Russia, India and Turkey. This means that advertisers have had to change the way they target South African consumers. The web users that do operate multiple devices are usually the ones with slightly more buying power, but behavioural shifts have seen consumers switching between devices while in the purchasing cycle. This behaviour is consistent within the SA market – and more smartphones translates into more confident mobile consumers. This can be seen in the data: people are using their phones to make transactions on sites that they trust and mobile conversions are up.

Still there are challenges. Advertisers are hesitant to throw  at mobile marketing when they don’t perceive it to bring them direct returns on advertising spend. Ad engagement in South Africa is not the problem – 41% of South Africans on mobile phones will engage with an ad. This shows that they need the information that ads bring them and that they enjoy browsing the destination websites. But the accelerating rise in mobile has seen the lines between online and offline blur. People on their mobile devices will often click on an ad and then make a call conversion. They also may click the ‘Get Directions’ button and then complete the purchase at the physical store.

This doesn’t help the confidence of the decision makers in advertising – mobile users abide by their own rules in a complex environment, with complex measurement challenges. In order to see the bigger picture, we need to understand that the context of the situation drives the choice of device – location, time of day and the day of the week are all important. In South Africa, further challenges include predicting device capabilities and the high cost of telecommunications. Many smartphone users will have a feature phone that may have browsing ability but limited infrastructure to deal with complex sites, leading to poor landing page experience and a high bounce rate. Many phone users also won’t use the “Click to Call” action button because they don’t want to run up their phone bill.

Mobile campaigns are about reading between the lines. It doesn’t make sense to cut mobile out of your marketing strategy. People’s habits are always changing but one thing that has remained constant is that consumers want choices. Focusing all your energy on desktop campaigns limits your ability to reach people wherever they are. Mobile is a significant portion of the market and it’s here to stay. Giving people access to your products and services on the device of their choice is what you want for your brand.

The study found that 50% of South Africans will use their smartphone when they’re in front of other devices because it gives them instant access and the answers to their questions. Paid Media campaigns with no plans for mobile are similar to puzzles with missing pieces. Instead of cutting out mobile, try to piece together the aspects of your campaign that are difficult to measure. Below are some helpful tips for maximising mobile performance:

  • Have a good website that is easy to use with a simple conversion path. Prioritise it to suit web users’ needs – mobile users are impatient and long for convenience.
  • Measure your “Get Directions” click volume in the Google Adwords location extensions.
  • See the amount of sessions on your Store Locator page in Google Analytics (GA).
  • Measure In-store coupon downloads with event tracking / goals in GA.
  • Phone call conversions (not to be confused with call extensions) are not available in SA. It may be worthwhile getting a separate landline to see how many of your calls come from Adwords.
  • If your site is not mobile ready, it’s not ideal, but it is doesn’t mean you can’t measure the performance of your call button. Cross device conversions are also still a good possibility if users trust your brand and use their desktop to complete transactions.
  • Measure purchasing behaviour of ‘logged in’ users. There are many articles online about how mobile consumers behave, but how do your mobile users behave? Where are they spending most of their s\time on your website and where are they dropping off, and why?
  • Assign conversion values because they help you figure out how to optimise the account. Example: If 1 000 calls costs you R2 per click (R2 000) and 20% of callers visit your site (200), of which 20% of visitors convert (40) at an average of R100 per purchase, you are making R4 000 and doubling your investment.



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