Interview with Andy Higgins

Andy Higgins is the founder of bidorbuy, who, after joining forces with the Jump Shopping team in 2012, rebranded the company as uAfrica.com in order to facilitate a broader focus on all aspects of eCommerce. He is now on the Board of Directors of PayFast, bidorbuy and uAfrica and specialises in assisting Internet businesses with enabling technology to achieve business objectives with an eCommerce focus on the African continent.

We sit down with Andy to chat about eCommerce in South Africa, starting a business and the challenges that come with it. 

When you look back at the first quarter of 2019, has there been anything that has stood out for you in South Africa’s eCommerce space/ business in general?

After the crazy peak period at the end of the year pre-holiday season, which again provided record numbers in the eCommerce space, the first quarter is welcomed to get one’s breath back and plan ahead for the next surge in volumes. One interesting development is a renewed commitment by the South African Post Office to focus on eCommerce (see https://techcentral.co.za/post-office-stakes-its-future-on-e-commerce/88113/). Talk is easy and execution is hard, so we will have to see if anything comes of this, but personally, I believe that the Post Office can and should play an important role in developing eCommerce in any country.  

What would you say are the current pitfalls of starting an online business in South Africa?

It seems often people think starting an online business can be done with minimal effort and resources. It is true that online can enable a number of efficiencies in running a business, especially when scaling up, but it still requires a lot of effort, dedication, persistence and resources in order to get up and running. Just like any other business, you still need to be prepared to invest time and money to make an online business a success. A case in point is the proliferation of online drop shipping businesses. The attraction with drop shipping is not having to hold stock of products, but when products are shipped from China, for example, the customer experience ends up being extremely poor, primarily due to the problems in the logistics chain. This does not bode well for creating a long term, sustainable online business in my opinion. 

What, in your view, is the thing holding most companies back when trying to decide whether to sell online?

With online retail, having only recently crossed over the 1% mark of total retail sales in South Africa, many companies seem to feel it is still too small for them to invest in the space. Personally, I believe it is only a matter of time for South African numbers to normalise with the rest of the world and those companies that do not go online now will be left behind when this happens. 

What are the most common problems you see when it comes to eCommerce Customer Experiences?

Communication, communication, communication. I think a lot of bad customer experiences can be prevented by better communication. In particular, communicating information about the product being sold accurately and fully. Communicating with the buyer after the sale on the status of the order, including tracking updates throughout the delivery process. And most importantly informing the buyer when something does not go according to plan. 

Do you think the majority of South African businesses lack the ability to be digital leaders?

No. On the contrary,  I believe South Africans have the ability to be highly innovative and be leaders in digital. 

If you could give an online merchant one tip in terms of running their business, what would that be?

Don’t be a perfectionist. Experiment and try lots of different things (in particular when it comes to marketing). Many experiments will not work but some will. Double down on the ones that work.