SOUTH AFRICA’S DIGITAL PLANET: A HYBRID E-COMMERCE MODEL

5 January 2001

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CORRECTIONS: ISSUE 48 ON CAPE TOWN: THERE ARE 400-500 IT COMPANIES IN CAPE TOWN. CHARLES LANDRY’S BOOK IS CALLED CREATIVE CITIES.

E-commerce was meant to completely rewrite the business model. Bricks and mortar suppliers were meant to become a thing of the past. Now e-commerce is struggling to reach the second generation, "hybrids" is the buzz word: sites that put together more than one approach to e-commerce. South Africa’s Digital Planet combines a combines a community-based site (for IT professionals) with e-commerce and auctions. Its Marketing Manager Debbie Whittaker describes how it’s working.

Digital Planet is positioned as South Africa’s I. Home Online.Founded by Mark Levy, Neil Watson and Ian Sherman, http://www.digitalplanet.co.za went live in August 1999.Digital Planet (DP) is a unique IT website that combines the 3Cs, namely content, community and commerce.Our market is the SA IT professional and business decision-maker and our focus is to offer a community-centric service based on building loyal relationships through interaction and e-procurement.We currently have 12 000 registered users, with an average of 9 000 unique visitors/ month.DP serves about 350 000 page impressions/ month, so it’s a very popular website. It was voted the top IT store in South Africa for 2000 in a recent research study conducted by Arthur Goldstuck.

Digital Planet partners with content providers, just to mention a few: IDC, Media Africa.com, SA Internet, MyNewEconomy and Sharenet. The site offers international and local customised IT news that is sent to subscribers via daily email.

Being community-centric, DP focuses on providing interactive services such as: Ask Prof. Planet - 24 hour technical advise, discussion forums, competitions, surveys, etc.Members are rewarded for their participation through a loyalty program.

Digital Planet has partnered with 150 vendors and offers over 50,000 hardware, software, networking and gaming products at unbeatable prices. The sites also hosts 13 vendor-shops, including HP, Microsoft, Palm, Compaq, Acer, etc. These enable customers to shop by their preferred brands.The shopping is taking off (Digital Planet’s strategy this year is to convert our members into buyers!) and the most popular products purchased include: DC-Writers, Palm handheld devices, printers, PCs and gaming software.

Potential buyers can select any product from a detailed on-line catalogue containing relevant technical data, a photograph of the product and independent customer reviews. The ordering process is simple - it takes approximately 3 minutes for a user to complete an order and instant invoicing is available. Payment occurs in a secure ‘Thawte certified’ environment, and the following payment options are made available to customers: eBucks, bluebeans, credit card, account and cash.

Digital Planet prides itself on its efficient logistics management and timely product delivery. Delivery rates are highly competitive, and we offer a range of warranty options subsequent to the purchase. Our commitment to customer service extends beyond product delivery, with community care offerings and after-sales service.

Auctions also form part of the ‘commerce’ section of the site. Digital Planet hosts 40 auctions a day, with 20 closing/ day.All IT products are new and include a full carry-in warranty. Also delivery is free.

The profile of a typical Digital Citizen is a ‘tech-savvy’ male, aged between 18 and 45, who accesses the Internet equally from home and work and who has bought online before.

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