According to a 2012 report by the African Economic Outlook organization, South Africa’s economic growth in 2013 will increase by 4.8 percent, driven by an array of industries including tourism, mining and legal services. The greatest challenge South Africa faces is how to lure global companies to do business in the region. If e-tailers want to reach the burgeoning middle class in South Africa, broadband and mobile infrastructure must be more reliable and widespread. There are many signs that this is a major initiative already being addressed by South African leaders.

Communications infrastructure challenges aside, in-store and online retailers are keeping a close eye on this market. According to RNCOS Industry Research, the South African retail market will grow at a rate of approximately 7 percent by 2014. The South African retail industry is the largest in the Sub Saharan region, presenting profitable investment opportunities for new players. With rising income levels and low interest rates, modern new business models are sparking increased demand for global retail products across the region. In turn, there is a growing consumer appetite for convenient shopping methods and well-known global brands. The new middle class is eager to be a part of the world economy.

As Africa’s taste for e-commerce and retail intensifies, international retailers can seize this opportunity to attract new customers and retain them as repeat shoppers – provided they can reach this audience in their preferred language. Businesses with the means to localize and tailor messages specifically to South African audiences increase the likelihood of building lasting brand loyalty. Here are some points to keep in mind when you approach this market:


  • South Africa has 11 official languages, ranging from English and Afrikaans to Zulu and Swazi. The major tribal language of Sotho has two major subsets of language dialect. Additionally, there are several more unofficial languages spoken in this region. This linguistic complexity means that e-tailers must offer consumers a wide array of language choice in which to shop. Consider using a drop-down menu that allows the shopper to select his preferred language.
  • South Africa’s history is both tumultuous and varied, and its culture reflects that. Many of the country’s Caucasian residents emerged from the colonialism of the 1800s. Further, the country was largely segregated by apartheid laws until the early 1990s. About 80 percent of the country’s citizens identify themselves as Christian; Islam and Hinduism come in a distant second and third, respectively. This history will become a factor as you select images and a voice for your localized website.

Experts agree that South Africa is clearly emerging as a target for e-commerce. If international brands show awareness and expertise in the array and usage of South Africa’s many languages and its evolving culture, they can reap the rewards of establishing an early presence in this market and build customer loyalty at lower entry level costs. You can be certain that cultural and linguistic expertise will be a critical component of the successful localization of e-commerce sites in this region.