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Superbalist: The rising star of South African online retail

Superbalist is South Africa’s rising star of fashion-focused e-commerce. Now, a merge with Spree (a fellow fashion etailer) sees Superbalist set to dominate the promising south African fashion landscape.

Still a developing market, current figures show that online retail accounts for around 1%, or R9-billion, of total retail sales (including groceries) in South Africa. This is expected to grow to 3-4%, or R27-billion, by 2020.

Kylne Maharaj, Head of Brand at Superbalist, has seen the company grow almost 100% YoY throughout his six years with the retailer, overseeing brand strategy, marketing, performance-media and comms and more.

WGSN caught up with Klyne to find out how South Africa’s coolest online retailer is overcoming barriers to entry in the South African market, putting their customer first and creating communities.


How does WGSN help you in your role at Superbalist?

It’s very important for us to understand what our competitors are doing, what CRM campaigns are being run locally and internationally, understanding best practice and also getting a view on what we are doing ourselves. As I’ve done more new business, WGSN has developed into more of a market research tool for us. We’re now doing a bespoke project to do more of a customer segmentation exercise


Who is the Superbalist customer? And how are you personalising your communications?

While our customer base started as a youth-focus, early 20’s, the range is now broad (16– 50s). This shift is down to Spree bringing an older customer along with the merge. We are looking to cater to the super trendy youth as well as the more practical dad. Because we have such a wide base, our communications need to be as segmented and personal as possible. With our emails and other messaging, we’re making sure we have the right products, right time of day, on the right channel for you. In the future, we have ambitions to have a fully personalised shopping experience on the site.


How has Instagram changed the relationship you have with your customers?

Every year, we survey our customers and we always ask about biggest sources of inspiration? It’s always Instagram. The platform is beginning to push in-app shopping, but the customer journey isn’t frictionless. There’s too much of a disconnect between the tagging feature and the native app. For us, the Facebook shop has a higher uptake than Instagram, just because the experience is more seamless. It’s still not a high converting channel, but it’s a huge future opportunity for us here. It’s also impacted our business, as all of our content is mobile first.


How do you work with influencers?

We work with a number of influencers in varied capacities, but the most notable recent work would be our merger campaign with Spree, which has just finished flighting. The objective was to represent our key customer archetypes through recognisable South African faces. We worked with a real range, from actor/director Thapelo Mokena, to olympic swimmer Calvyn Justus and beauty blogger Yoliswa Mqoco.


In the Southern hemisphere, how do you deal with Northern-driven trends and seasonality in an age of Instagram where customers demand immediacy?

We are a multi-brand retailer as well as private label. It’s the private label product where we can control the speed to market and provide our customers with the newest trends, whereas the international brands need to be ordered 8 months in advance. So our customers are looking to the international brands for longer lasting, perennial goods like jeans and sneakers, and then the private label for the more trend driven items that are cheaper. There is a huge appetite for branded denim, sneakers and outerwear in SA.


What are challenges you encounter in South African online retail? And how are you overcoming them?

Our biggest challenge is accessibility from pricing and product, can they afford it, does it suit their aesthetic? What are the uniquely South African barriers or restrictions to internet access? We need to understand them, and then take away as much friction as we can. We cannot just copy what is happening in developed markets. We have to normalise online shopping in South Africa, because at the moment it is not normal yet- although we are making huge strides in that.

Tech comes into play too. Data is exceptionally expensive in South Africa, and can be a barrier. So we’ve lightened the app a lot in terms of data usage and worked with Google to take our page loading times from 5 seconds to 0.1 second.

Another challenge is delivery, can we get something to the customer when they need it? Delivery is not that convenient for everyone, so we have introduced click & collect. We use our own courier and logistics team owned by our parent company Takealot. When it comes to returns, we present it as; order as much as you want, return all of it, and for free. We spin it as “home Trial” so that people can enjoy the comfort of their homes trying on rather than in malls.

In terms of payment, we add as many methods as possible, including credit card, Instant EFT with Payfast, eBucks, Discovery Miles, Snapscan and Superbalist Store Credit. We’re currently investigating a buy now, pay later scheme.


Do you have physical touch points with customers? 

Being headline sponsor for Rocking The Daisies (one of the biggest music festivals in SA) was our biggest activation. On the ground over the weekend, we built a pop-up space where we brought our Superbalist community together by offering free services like festival makeup and clothing embellishment. Festival wear was for sale, too. We’ve also done a collaboration with Sneaker Exchange, where we created a wall of our bestselling sneakers. We have no plan to open up a permanent store, but we do want to be in spaces that make sense. However, we are still trying to normalise ecommerce in SA before we experiment more with that.


You mentioned you have grown 100% year on year, how are you reaching those new customers?

Three years at Superbalist is like ten years at another company. Our strategies are constantly evolving and changing and every year we start the year like it’s a new business. We think how can we double what we are doing across the board.

We’ve shot 90 TV commercials. Although it’s starting to decline, there’s still an abnormally high number of people with satellite TV, so we’ve a lot more time to invest in TV adverts before it becomes unviable. We invest a lot in Youtube video, too. We work with Unskippable Labs, who analyse video content and understand what performs best. So much data goes into our brand, impacting where the title goes, whether we have voice overs, the framing of ads.


What is next for Superbalist?

Our vision is to be the biggest and most loved fashion retailer in SA. We don’t just consider online as our competitors, we consider all retailers our competitors, we want to be the most loved, the go to, most trusted and accessible brand. The merger with spree has helped that as we have an even more formidable force to take into the market and now we can compete against the likes of Truworths, Edgars and Mr Price.


For more? Head to WGSN’s Trend Insights: Southern Africa report.

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