The binary challenge – South Africans are going digital

Despite South Africa’s online use growing five-fold since 2010, local business across all sectors are still struggling to create that perfect interactive platform to open the door to being among the most successful online and searched for suppliers – and we’re no strangers to this challenge!

From a services sector point of view, banking certainly leads the way and has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that South Africans, as individuals, are increasingly embracing the electronic self-service space; but can the same be said of businesses?

In 2012, Afrox took the leap into the e-Commerce space, recognising the potential for customers of unlocking many benefits unique to trading online; benefits such as 24/7 availability adding to the ease of doing business, transaction transparency and consistency and, more obviously, a host of efficiencies. These are just some of the advantages which spring to mind and should reverberate with any business that depends on a supplier to fulfil their needs.

But how to deliver these benefits and meet customer expectations wasn’t and still isn’t a simple matter. Going to online trading was a big step for all of us at Afrox, especially for the gases, welding and safety equipment side of the business. We had no industry-specific example to follow and, in a tough and competitive climate, had little to go on, other than customer feedback, to build something that made sense to and worked for customers. And it was the voice of the customer that was actually the single biggest factor in us becoming E-Enabled in 2014!

It is only two years on and the Afrox e-Commerce platform now hosts 15,000 registered customers and handles over 300,000 online visits every year, a mix of existing repeat and new customers.  At last count, there were more than R200m in orders via the online Afrox eShop and some 450,000 transactions, which points to us being on the right track. I wouldn’t claim the platform is perfect by any measure, not quite yet, but I do think we have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that our eCommerce platform innovates for users, is increasingly more transparent and, most importantly, is serious about the business user experience.

But it is a journey, learning from customers as we progress. Afrox has moved from a space where we had to ask customers to ‘consider’ our online trade offer to a point where the demand for online services has forced us to stand-up, pay attention, tuck-in our shirts and act on your needs and do so rapidly!

Now our aim for customers is to build on and continuously enhance the available services and increase the ease of trading with us online. There is no doubt eCommerce will play a growing part in the reach of an already strong Afrox brand, which is widely trusted for quality and, importantly, for adding value to businesses aspiring to success.

To round up, let me be clear; we are grateful for the position you, our business users, have placed us in, for the opportunity that has enabled us, like the banking industry, to shape our particular market space and we promise to keep on evolving, and above all, listening, after all that’s how it all started for Afrox, with the voice of you, our customer!

Brett Sauerman

eCommerce Manager

African Oxygen Limited

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