Is SHEIN a threat to SA retailers?

The online retailer Shein has been gaining traction in South Africa, and we assess the risk it may pose to the SA clothing retailers. Its innovative use of technology revolutionises the buying process, but there is an opportunity for the local retailers to emulate some of these innovations. Shein’s delivery timeframe of 2 to 3 weeks is a significant drawback, and while its very competitive prices offset this, it may still only appeal to a particular customer that would be willing to wait for order fulfilment. The current model of individual airfreight orders cannot be scaled, and Shein will have to set up a local fulfilment centre if order volumes increase substantially. We think customs duty is one of the critical weaknesses of the Shein model in SA. Shein’s range dwarfs the local retailers, and its price points are extremely competitive. The SA retailers are unlikely to compete with Shein on range and pricing. However, they could emphasise other factors such as superior quality and availability (not waiting 3 weeks) as key selling points. While Shein is an impressive online retailer, we think it is unlikely that it will be a market disrupter in South Africa in the near term.