Shein taking South Africa by storm

Takealot Group’s online clothing retailer — Superbalist — does not appear too bothered about the rising popularity of Shein.

Founded in 2008, the Chinese e-commerce clothing giant offers a wide range of clothing and fashion accessories to buy online and ship to dozens of countries.

It generated $24 billion (R457.57 billion) in revenue in 2022, nearly equalling that of global fashion powerhouses Zara and H&M, and was valued at $100 billion (R1.91 trillion) in April 2022.

In addition to the dozens of other markets to which it ships clothing,  Shein has seen a rapid surge in popularity in South Africa since its local debut in 2020.

On mobile app stores, it is currently trending ahead of highly popular social media apps such as WhatsApp and TikTok.

At the time of publication, the Shein mobile app ranked as the most downloaded app overall and in the shopping category on the Google Play Store.

In the shopping-only category, The Foschini Group’s Bash ranks second, while Superbalist is in 8th place.

On the Apple App Store, Shein is currently the third most downloaded app overall and first in the Shopping category.

The table below summarises the download rankings of major online clothing stores in South Africa.

Most downloaded clothing shopping apps in South Africa
Online clothing store Apple App Store Google Play Store
Shein #1 #1
Bash #2 #2
Superbalist #9 #8
Woolworths #7 #14
Zando #46 #22

While download rankings can be a useful measure of popularity, they only tell a part of the story.

More established platforms like Superbalist might not rank highly in downloads because they have been available for longer — which means they are more likely to have been installed in the past.

MyBroadband recently asked our readers which online clothing shop they used the most.

Superbalist received about 41% of the 1,062 votes, compared with 34% for Shein.

While Superbalist came out on top, it is worthwhile to note that Superbalist was first launched in 2010, while Shein only arrived in South Africa a decade later.

Another interesting outcome of this poll was Bash’s solid performance — capturing 18% of the vote compared to just about 8% for Zando.

The chart below shows what proportion of MyBroadband readers said they used each of four of the most popular online clothing shopping apps in South Africa.

The total percentage may be higher than 100% due to rounding.

One of the most-praised benefits of Shein is its low prices.

Shein customers can easily buy between five and ten items for less than R1,000, even when including shipping fees and import taxes.

The cost savings also make customers more forgiving regarding delivery times — which can take a few weeks.

However, one frequent Shein customer recently told MyBroadband they had seen delivery times improve drastically — with deliveries sometimes occurring within a week of placing an order.

Shein benefits from China’s economies of scale, strong industrial experience, and low labour costs.

However, the latter has a dark side, with Shein being accused of exploitative labour practices.

An undercover investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 and The i newspaper previously revealed that workers earn a base monthly salary of $556 (R10,628) per month.

While the salary might sound reasonable to minimum wage workers in South Africa, it is important to note that it requires making 500 pieces of clothing per day, coming down to roughly $0.02 per item, or 38 South African cents.

Employees also have to work 75 hours a week, working out to 12.5 hours per day if on the job six days a week, Monday to Saturday.

In South Africa, the company is also facing an investigation by the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition (DTIC), which is probing whether the company is skirting import taxes.

Trade unions representing South African textile workers allege the company is using smaller packaging to pay 10%–20% on import tariffs compared to standard tariff charges of 40%–45%.

Based on the import fees MyBroadband has seen for several Shein orders, the tariff is typically close to 10% of the total value of the order, including shipping and delivery costs.

Even when increasing this to the 40—45% that trade unions want Shein to pay, the total prices of the products will still be well below those of comparable products from its rivals.

Superbalist not too bothered

While Shein has seen immense growth in South Africa, Takealot Group’s Superbalist has been struggling.

The company announced the start of a retrenchment process in August 2023 due to disappointing growth and pressure from offline retailers.

Superbalist’s parent company, Naspers, is focusing on increasing profitability after years of underwhelming performance.

MyBroadband asked Superbalist if Shein was also having a material impact on its business, but the company did not address the question directly.

However, it said that because of more frequent online shopping among South Africans, there was an opportunity for the entire category to grow.

“We’ll never shy away from going toe to toe with international competitors,” Superbalist said.

“We’re proud of our quality, and we believe that our products and service offerings are world-class,” the company said.

“We believe competition is pro-consumer, and we are privileged to have consumers who choose to shop with us.”

The retailer would also not comment directly on the DTIC’s investigation into Shein.

But the company did say it would welcome lawful and fair competition because it sharpened Superbalist’s product and service offering, ultimately benefitting the South African consumer with more options at better value.

Superbalist has argued that its status as a proudly South African company and ability to deliver quickly and efficiently to any part of the country were among the advantages it held over Shein.

MyBroadband also asked Bash for comment on Shein’s growth in South Africa, but it did not provide feedback by the time of publication.

Now read: What Takealot’s next-day delivery badge really means

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Shein taking South Africa by storm