Local couriers face unprecedented challenges as Amazon, Shein and Temu disrupt SA’s e-commerce market

Published Jun 12, 2024


Competition amongst local couriers has increased dramatically with the emergence of e-commerce giants, like Amazon, Temu, and Shein into the South African market impacting both the micro and macro environments and leading to a greater demand and delivery volume. South Africa’s e-commerce market is expected to reach $16.3 billion by 2030, with an annual growth rate of 15%, according to a RationalStat report.

Another factor contributing to this exponential growth of online shopping is the surge in Gen Z’s shopping habits: with a whopping 98% of tech-savvy Gen Z owning smartphones, 32% of them shop online at least once daily (compared to 25% of millennials, 15% of Gen X and 7% of baby boomers). Gen Z, the digitally native generation born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, are reshaping the way we shop and revolutionising the expectations surrounding the delivery experience, spurring the need for efficient, seamless and tech-driven delivery solutions.

“The strategic shift towards competitive e-commerce offerings and enhanced customer engagement, including sophisticated AI tools, has fundamentally transformed the retail landscape in South Africa,” says Arthur Godstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx.

This heightened market activity is predicted to result in increased parcel volumes, particularly within the business-to-consumer space. As the e-commerce landscape expands and transforms, local courier services will need to embrace innovation, sustainability and make use of strategic collaborations to navigate the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities within this dynamic sector.

The future of this symbiotic relationship promises to enhance consumer convenience and choice whilst contributing significantly to South Africa’s economic development.

Courier services are regarded as the backbone of e-commerce, facilitating the seamless flow of goods from sellers to buyers. These services ensure the convenience promised by e-commerce platforms extends far beyond the digital transaction, to the physical delivery of products. They directly impact customer satisfaction, repeat business, and the overall reputation of e-commerce platforms.

Whilst the competition is fierce and pressure on prices and service standards high, the entry of these global e-retailers provides ample opportunity for growth through partnerships, technological advancements and strategic innovations. Local delivery companies that adapt and evolve in response to these changes will be well-positioned to thrive in this dynamic environment.

From the initial announcement of Amazon coming to South Africa, it was clear that logistics would be a big differentiator for the newcomer: a selection of local and international brands across 20 different product categories would be available for both same-day and next-day delivery, along with more than 3000 pickup points, and an easy return system. For products fulfilled by Amazon, customers will enjoy free delivery on their first order, followed by free delivery for subsequent orders above R500. They will also receive status updates via WhatsApp to track their orders.

With the expansion of these e-commerce platforms, there’s an increase in demand for local courier services that can handle the increasing volume of deliveries, offer timely and accurate tracking, and manage the logistical challenges of reaching customers across diverse geographic locations.

One such company is The Courier Guy, South Africa’s leading last-mile courier service provider with an extensive network of delivery partners, kiosks, and more than 1,200 pudo smart lockers across the country, serving diverse geographical regions from urban centres to remote areas. It is at the forefront of providing innovative and customer-focused logistics solutions.

Smart lockers are certainly the future as they offer both collection and return capabilities making them attractive for e-retailers. At the moment The Courier Guy, through pudo, is pioneering the smart locker space and smart locker adoption in SA. They’re contactless, open 24/7 and everything is done via an app, which is very convenient.

Pudo enables direct communication between buyers and sellers via their app, offering alternative delivery options, such as lockers or partner stores located nationwide, and providing customers with more choices beyond traditional home deliveries. This aligns with Gen Z’s preference for contactless deliveries and secure parcel handling.

Leveraging technology and innovation is crucial in today’s e-commerce landscape. “By integrating systems, driving lean processes and leveraging our own economies of scale we are able to enhance our efficiency. However, it is essential to continue protecting the business and maintaining the high quality of service we deliver to our customers, ” explains Craig Pitchers, CEO of The Courier Guy.

The integration of advanced software systems for route optimisation and logistics management has streamlined operations, reducing delivery times and costs. GPS technology and mobile applications enable real-time tracking of shipments, providing both businesses and consumers with visibility and peace of mind throughout the delivery process.

“We have invested in automated sorting at our main hub in Johannesburg, improving throughput and sorting accuracy thus reducing time and re-work. Additionally, our advanced customer portal offers key features such as tracking and event notifications,” describes Pitchers.

Investing in the right technologies and hiring skilled personnel to support their customers has been crucial for The Courier Guy. Since 2021, they have made use of Zendesk Enterprise Suite to deliver fast, personalised customer support across a variety of channels including email, phone, web, mobile and social media. The ability to integrate chat across channels has been a game-changer. WhatsApp is particularly popular in South Africa and today 36% of The Courier Guy’s tickets come in via WhatsApp chat.

Zendesk has enabled The Courier Guy’s customer support team to use conversational bots to gather customer information. Customers can input basic information such as name and label number details, before their call or chat is routed to an agent. By integrating these bots into their customer service offering, The Courier Guy has saved around 1,4 million rand per year. Says Pitchers, “We never cut corners in this area because, even if issues arise, it is our response and resolution that truly matters.

“We pride ourselves on being the people’s courier. The strong association South Africans have with our brand differentiates us from our competitors, while our deep integration into the communities we serve is a significant advantage for us,” adds Pitchers.