South Africans love Shein

Online clothes shopping is the second most purchased e-commerce category in South Africa, and Shein is the country’s preferred retailer in the sector despite allegations of unethical business practices.

This is according to a Marketing Research Foundation report covering the South African commercial and digital landscape between the beginning of 2021 and the end of 2023.

Second to online communications purchases, such as airtime and data, clothing shopping was the most common e-commerce category in South Africa.

Respondents were asked about how their online buying behaviour over the past month fell into the following categories: clothing, groceries, footwear, furniture, tech and appliances, fast food, and other.

Clothing comprised 42% of the sample’s purchases, whereas fast food took second place with 17%.

Based on the responses, the research found that 1.9 million people purchased clothing online in the past month.

Within the sphere of online clothing shopping, Shein dominated its competitors.

The report divided the clothing category into three groups: women’s, men’s, and children’s.

Shein was the number one retailer in every category by at least double the market share of the second-placed shop.

Shein held a 35% market share in women’s clothing, dominating the second and third-place stores, Mr Price (7%) and Superbalist (3%).

In the children’s clothing market, Shein had a 10% share of purchases, double that of second-place Ackermans.

The same can be said about men’s clothing purchases. Sportscene and Other, tied second at a 4% market share, have half the share of Shein.

Top e-commerce clothing retailers per category. Source: Marketing Research Foundation.

Shein controversy

Shein’s popularity in South Africa has surged despite allegations of unscrupulous business practices.

The Chinese clothing manufacturer has been accused of exploiting tax loopholes to undercut local retailers and textile producers.

It denied these allegations, saying that the correct customs duty and VAT are paid on every order delivered to customers.

Shein told MyBroadband that it includes the relevant taxes in the prices listed on its website.

In addition to accusations of dodging tax, Shein was also subject to public scrutiny for excessive “fast fashion” production and poor labour conditions at the end of 2022.

The allegations against the Chinese clothing manufacturer included copying small businesses, forced labour, and violating labour laws.

According to the environmental activism group @Environment, citing Professor Sheng Lu from the University of Delaware, Shein produces 1.3 million different items or styles every 12 months.

For comparison, fast fashion giants H&M and Zara produce 25,000 and 35,000, respectively.

Shein’s “test and repeat” business model entails creating a small test batch of 50 to 100 items for every new product.

The new product is then uploaded to the site to see whether it performs well or not.

Shein’s website states that it uploads just under 10,000 items to its store every day, equating to 1 million test units produced daily.

@Environment said that due to how quickly styles are discarded, only 6% of the designs stay on the site for over 90 days.

Shein disputed the report’s conclusion that its model had a harmful impact, saying that it actually reduced waste.

“Contrary to some common misperceptions, we keep prices affordable through our technology-based on-demand business model and flexible supply chain,” the company told MyBroadband.

“This reduces inefficiency, helps us to lower wastage of material, as well as reduce our unsold inventory. We pass this cost advantage to our customers, and this is what has driven our success.”

Regarding human rights abuses, Shein also denied allegations of unethical labour practices.

“We are committed to respecting human rights and adhering to local laws and regulations in each market we operate in,” a Shein spokesperson said.

“Our suppliers must adhere to a strict code of conduct that is aligned to the International Labour Organisation’s core conventions. We have zero tolerance for forced labour.”

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South Africans love Shein