THE NUMBER of South Africans shopping online is on the rise, according to the latest research by the Digital Media and Marketing Association (DMMA) on South Africa’s digital nation.

Of the 2,263 people surveyed by the DMMA, 52% said they had shopped online on platforms such as BidorBuy, Amazon and Kalahari.net over the past year.

South Africa’s internet economy was worth R59bn in 2011, making up 2% of the economy. It is expected to grow its share to as much as 2.5% by 2016.

Elna Smit, senior market researcher at Columinate, an online marketing research company that conducted the survey for the DMMA, said the research showed the factors that affected consumers’ comfort when transacting online.

"In general, consumers trust information on social networks. Those who have been using the internet for between three and five years or more are the most likely to shop online," she said.

Ms Smit said the respondents had also indicated that they spent more money online last year than in previous years.

The data also showed that almost one in five users were likely to spend more than five hours a day on Facebook and, in general, users responded to animated online ads with no video or sound.

"We found that people mostly use the internet at work, and in a working environment you might not always have the time or the equipment to play a video advert or an advert with sound. The good news is that a lot of people click on the animated ads and take action accordingly," Ms Smit said.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they actively looked for brands on social networks, while 72% said they followed the brands they liked on social networks.

Ryan Hogarth, communications speaker and social media expert, said businesses were now focusing on growing and maintaining their brands for the online shopping market.

"Being connected socially allows businesses to have conversations with the most important person, the client," he said. "I see up to eight businesses a month and we make social media strategies that they can implement internally and externally. By 2020, being connected as a business brand online will be as important as having electricity."