How to Sell Goods Online in South Africa

The Internet has changed the way buyers and sellers connect making things like paper classifieds largely redundant. When you are selling physical goods online in South Africa there are a few questions to consider:

Will you be selling, locally, nationally or both?
Will you only be selling in your own province or to other provinces?

Will you be selling on from your own website, an online marketplace or both?
What this means is will you sell from your own website: or sell on platforms such as Gumtree and bidorbuy.

What will you be selling?
If you are buying and selling secondhand goods your strategy will be different to if you are a selling new high-end like fashion items.

Here are our recommended strategies:

You are selling locally on an online marketplace
If you are selling locally via an online marketplace, and then your best place to sell is Gumtree. I can’t speak for other provinces but in the Western Cape they are the superior platform and are the recommended online classifieds platform for local commerce. Your strategy here is to update your ads on a daily basis. Gumtree also has good search engine rakings and show up highly in a search engine results for relevant search terms e.g. {product or service} in {area}. I just want to say that there are other local platforms out there (Facebook groups, OLX, Junk Mail), but due to time constraints and lack of success on the other platforms (YMMV) I stick to Gumtree and as stated before is the one we recommend.

Payment: C.O.D

Logistics: The thing about local commerce is that you are almost forced to meet face-to-face. The standard is for buyer to collect or to meet at a safe place.

You are selling nationally on an online marketplace
If you are selling to other provinces then the best marketplace in South Africa is bidorbuy. That is because bidorbuy has a rating system and a verified seller (you have to submit a copy of your ID) system that increases the trust when selling online, the verified seller system also provides insurance under certain conditions. It does not reduce fraud completely (there are old sellers that have ran off with people’s money). But it is the most trusted platform for province to province commerce.  I would keep a decade old verified seller with late nineties rating in higher regard than a new website with its own domain. In fact I have even met sellers from other provinces on Gumtree and then we concluded the transaction on bidorbuy.

Gumtree has partnered with a company called “Pay With Shepherd” which is a Escrow service to facilitate province to province commerce, but I personally hate that model and I would not use it. I mean I hate bidorbuy’s payment system bobpay as well as it sometimes has its problems (I prefer direct EFT) but I would use bobpay, pay a withdrawal fee and pay bidorbuy their 5% commission over using Shepherd Escrow any day.

How Shepherd works is that you and the “buyer” agree on a price, you log into Shepherd and start the process, the “buyer” (I say “buyer” because he has not bought anything yet), gets a unique code and has to make payment plus courier fee to continue the process (now even though he has made payment, he has technically not bought the item yet). This money is kept by Shepherd in escrow. You then get an Email saying the buyer has made payment to Shepherd and that a courier is coming to pick up the item by your place (you get a waybill to print). The item is delivered to the buyer and Shepherd only releases the money to you once the buyer accepts the item. If the “buyer” rejects the item the “buyer” is refunded their money and the item returned to you. This can end up being a big waste of time all the while you end up with unsold inventory. Buyers can back out and make up all kinds of excuses. For that and various other reasons it’s a no from me.

Stick to bidorbuy for the national marketplace you can always factor in their commission into the fee. If you selling something for R100 on Gumtree simply mark it up to R105 or R110 that R5 or R10 is the safety premium that sellers have to pay.

Payment: Buyers usually pay using bobpay which is basically an instant EFT. As well as with other means which is credited to your account which you can withdraw whenever you want.
Logistics: Various options, post office or courier (including overnight, PostNet or bulk freight). For overnight I really like Aramex’s “Store-to-Door” service as I can drop the parcel off whenever I’m ready (I’m aware that most couriers collect but the “Store-to-Door” model suits me as I have a participating Pick n Pay around the corner). For bulk freight, I recommend Bigfoot Express, they not by all means perfect but they have always gotten the job done.

Sell stuff on bidorbuy

Selling on existing marketplaces is sometimes better than selling from your own website especially if you just starting out. Marketplaces like bidorbuy are already well known, get lots of visits from search engines and spend a lot of money on advertising. But what makes bidorbuy better than Gumtree for certain things is their trust/rating system […]

You are selling local and nationally via your own website
Now I want to get one thing out of the way sooner rather than later: it is very hard to get visitors to your website, people don’t just magically find you on the internet and buy stuff from you, the money you save from having office space is almost entirely eaten up by the money you spend on advertising to get people to your website. This is one of the attractions of an online platform, yes bidorbuy takes a 5% cut from every sale, but have you seen what happens when you do a search for a product on Google?, the ads at the top for bidorbuy or when you visit a website and see bidorbuy image ads, bidorbuy is essentially paying to get people to your listing.

Your own domain name, hosting and SSL certificate is essential. If you want to host it “yourself” then WordPress with WooCommerce using the PayFast module does the job, if you want a hosted ecommerce solution then Shopify is an ideal solution.

Payment: If you using PayFast the money will be credited to your account which you can withdraw when you want.
(same as above). It’s advised to open an account with a courier provider such as Courier Guy so your courier needs can be seamless.

Niche marketplaces
There have been numerous attempts to clone websites like Etsy for the local market, with not much success, while there are some niche marketplaces out there they are mainly recommended for specialised items such as paintings.

I do not recommend using the South African Post Office. I simply let people pay the courier premium. South Africa’s postal service is in such shambles that I think they better off just taking it behind the barn and shooting it. Show the government that SAPO is not worth saving by using a private courier company.

Further reading

How to Courier Packages Province to Province in South Africa

With South Africa’s post office barely functional it is better to use private courier companies to send parcels province to province. Here are three ways to …