Age, income, and education drive online retail in South Africa

March 20, 2023 | By Gabriel Swanepoel
South Africans’ online spending patterns and behavior evolved at a rapid pace in 2022. The Online Retail in South Africa 2023 report, released by World Wide Worx in conjunction with Mastercard, showed that online shopping shot up from 27% of adult South Africans in 2020 to 38% in 2022.

The study included analysis of the annual Target Group Index (TGI) survey conducted by Ask Afrika, which interviews 16,000 South Africans every six months to gather data on their consumption of products, brands, and media, as well as purchasing behavior, attitudes, motivations, and beliefs. This survey provides the most detailed demographic breakdown of online shopping available in the country.

The research highlighted a 40% increase in the total number of shoppers. The traditional gender divide in online shopping, which was male-dominated in the early years, still persists, with 41% of men and 36% of women using this option.

During the pandemic, online shopping had ‘normalized’ across age groups, and at the time, an average of 27% to 30% penetration was seen in all age groups up to 64 years. Only the 65+ age group witnessed a marked decrease to 19%.

In 2022, two major shifts occurred. The first was that shopping by age returned to a previously observed pattern – online shopping peaked in the 25-34 age bracket and then steadily dropped off with each successive age group. The second major shift was a significant reduction in online shopping among the 65+ age group. While most age groups indicated a relatively high level of agreement with the statement that in-store shopping is preferable to online (24% to 30%), this figure increased dramatically to 41% in the over-64 category.

The metrics that showed the highest positive correlation with online shopping were education and income. Only 20% of those with less than a high-school qualification preferred online shopping, compared to 54% of those with tertiary education. On the income scale, the inclination towards online shopping rose steadily, from 22% for those earning less than R2,500 a month to 62% for those earning more than R50,000.

Studies such as this one play a key role in enabling retailers to understand who their consumers are, where they are, and how their country’s economics affects them. This helps them analyze how and where to reach their target customers and how to create a seamless shopping experience, whether online or in-store.

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Gabriel Swanepoel, Country Manager, Southern Africa