South Africans are very industrious when it comes to creating informal trading opportunities. Whether it’s a full-time venture or simply a “side hustle”, local traders cater to the delights of winning the affections of local buyers who often become loyal customers. But, is this always the case?
According to an article published by News24, South Africa’s large informal market comprises of around 200,000 spaza shops, mini wholesalers and street hawkers (2021). Apart from this, there exists another semi-formal market segment that utilises social media (such as Facebook Market and WhatsApp) to communicate and advertise a range of goods and services including second-hand furniture, housewares and appliances, pet accessories, homemade confectionaries, extra lessons and the like. The heartfelt sentiment of supporting homegrown businesses helps to increase local employment and subsidise lower to middle income earning families. And, whilst we appreciate some bargaining power with local traders, there remain some additional factors that informal traders should consider in helping to increase their sales, reach and revenue. These include the following:
- Become better communicators: Avoid, at all costs, to keep potential clients and customers waiting for a response to their query. When customers develop an interest in your speciality, you’ll want to capitalise on the evident sales rhythm. Yes, you may not have an established call centre, but responding to queries that come in should be promptly tended to. Calling a customer once, but not following up on the call they missed from you, can cost you a valuable sales opportunity.
- Sell a quality product or service at a quality price: Consider your local market’s affordability and how often they’re likely to support you if they (and their pocket) feel valued by the purchase they’ve made. No one wants to be ripped off. Your customer may be too shy to ask for a refund, but they’ll most likely tell around 10 other people about their displeasure and never come back again. And to add to that, we know how news spreads like wildfire, especially within smaller communities and social groups.
- Package with pride: Strongly consider how your packing and labelling affects the aesthetics of your product, or even the service you wish to deliver. Is it hygienic? Does it look smart? Does it promote your name and brand favourably? Sometimes, you’re able to get away by making a cheap product look expensive simply by the way its packaged. If you have a low budget for this element of your product, consider how a rustic look can still be appealing and affordable at the same time along with using the right (and correct) form of language on your packing.
- Assess your accessibility: How easy (or difficult) is it for your market to obtain your wares or services? Informal traders may not have the same fancy retail space as the big national/international retail brands, but then again, they don’t carry the same exorbitant overhead costs. Some compromises, such as making deliveries or staying “open” after general trading hours may need to be considered as part of your approach. See a need, fill a need. Offer the things the bigger ‘guys’ in the market aren’t offering or simply overlooking when it comes to their customer approach.
Every customer/client wants to feel important – even the shy and reserved ones. It won’t be helpful making your client feel as if you’re doing them a favour by going out of your way, especially if you’re the sole trader of your business. Clients and customers can sense when someone is genuinely going the extra mile for them or if its just a hint at a guilt trip. Go out of your way, for sure, but go about it in the most subtle and humble way possible.
Take a moment to really study your local market to see what draws them, disgusts them, disgruntles them and delights them. This may take some time through trial and error, but throughout the journey, you’ll gain the experience you need to grow your small business.