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Has shopping behaviour changed in sub-Saharan Africa since the start of the pandemic?

From wearing masks and washing our hands more carefully than ever to working from home, Covid has changed our behaviour in dramatic and measurable ways. The virus has also had an interesting impact on our consumer behaviour, with large swathes of the world's population changing their well-worn habits within a few short weeks.
Following on from our previous pieces about work life post-lockdown and how the pandemic has affected attitudes to health, we have taken a deep dive into the altered shopping habits of people living in sub-Saharan Africa and globally. Globally 34% of people claim to be shopping online more than they did before the pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa hasn’t followed this trend to the same degree with only 16% of South Africans and 27% of Nigerians shopping online more than before. However, this does not mean that people in these countries are unafraid of the virus. Rather people appear to be buying in bulk and visiting physical stores less often than they did before, complementing this shopping with online buying. Only 15% of worldwide respondents say they have not altered their shopping habits. Nigeria (14%) mirrors this but a greater number of South Africans (21%) have not changed the way they shop. Of the three sub-Saharan countries in question, the last amount of Kenyans (10%) have not changed the way they shop.

It’s difficult to pinpoint trends in consumer behaviour. In sub-Saharan Africa, people are avoiding stores that do not observe precautionary measures such as social distancing and sanitation to a greater degree than people living elsewhere.

Plus South Africans are avoiding high-end stores selling luxury goods substantially more than their global counterparts. Kenyans are avoiding stores in malls but are comfortable with most other store formats. Nigerians continue to support high-end stores more than the global average.


Underlying all these changing patterns of behaviour is that we are living in a pandemic. Almost a third of people worldwide (28%) say that no measures will make them feel safer. This rises to 40% of people in South Africa, however, only 14% of Nigerians are equally unafraid.

Perhaps a response to high numbers of Covid cases, a factor that may have a particularly strong effect on South African respondents, people living in sub-Saharan Africa have stringent requirements for in-store hygiene and safety protocols.


It is strict adherence to these hygiene and distance protocols that shoppers in sub-Saharan Africa want to see. 77% of South Africans would be happy to visit a physical store that followed these practices, which more closely aligns with the global average of 82%. Such changes would comfort 87% of Nigerian shoppers and 81% of Kenyan shoppers.


While safe packaging and delivery practices are required of online stores, it is the more traditional expectations of excellent service that drives South African, Kenyan and Nigerian shoppers to make the move to online shopping.

Even though the pandemic has changed what South Africans, Kenyans and Nigerians buy online, they are not using the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new shopping avenues to the same degree as their global counterparts. Rather people living in these three countries are using services that help them stock up on essentials and healthy foods.


What people are buying overall has changed. Perhaps as a response to working from home and insecure finances people in South Africa and Nigeria claim to have bought less fuel, insurance, electronics, household appliances, alcohol and fashion at the start of the pandemic, preferring to spend their money on medicines (including vitamins) and services that could support working from home. Nigerians also reported spending significantly more on education, while Kenyans have spent more than usual on FMCG items and insurance since the pandemic started.

Making a success of working from home has been a priority for many people this year. For a deeper look at this change read our earlier article, WFH: the new normal in sub-Saharan Africa?

For a deeper look at changing consumer practices read our earlier report, The impact of Covid on consumer behaviour.

While people living in sub-Saharan Africa haven’t made the leap to online shopping to the same degree as people living in other regions of the world, their shopping patterns have changed considerably. Safe shopping environments and excellent service from online service providers being the major factor influencing where people shop.

Contact us to get reliable data and insights for your brand.

Borderless Access
Borderless Access is a digital MR company, providing access to consumer and niche audience experiences to its global clientele with its first-party online panels and its products and research solutions.
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