Rising brand consciousness among Zambian middle class

The steadily expanding African middle class (no matter how it’s defined) has caught the attention of brands and companies. Alongside rising consumer spending power is a general shift in purchasing habits, and in Zambia it is no different.

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Abhilash Bajpai is the director of Radian Stores, the consumer electronics and home appliances retailer and authorised distributor in Zambia for Philips and LG Electronics. He has been at the company for eight years, and while he estimates only about a third of the Zambian population can afford Radian’s products, he has noticed consumers are becoming more brand conscious.

“Brand consciousness is rising, and I’m sure in times to come, most customers will make their purchasing decisions based on brands instead of just the price.”

He attributes this shift to the growth in the middle class and their demand for more premium products.

“If you talk to people who have been here for a long time, they’ll tell you the Zambian population used to be either rich or poor – there was nothing in-between. But recently there has been a significant rise of the middle class.”

Rising brand consciousness is also a result of improved consumer awareness through their exposure to more brands, particularly in home electronics and appliances.

“And also because these brands are not stupid. Companies like LG, Samsung and others present in the market know the customer is not very rich in Zambia. So they also have offerings which can soothe their pockets. They have some very entry level products which are good on quality, probably low on features, but they serve the purpose. They give consumers enough quality to take them through the years,” he explains.

“So that is also happening. And it’s cutting into the lowest income strata of the population and moving them into the brand umbrella.”

Demand for a more modern experience

Beyond brands, Bajpai says Radian has also seen a growing demand for more technologically advanced products, tied to rising consumer spending power. This is evident in the television market.

“This year we are seeing a shift from small screens to big screens. Up until early this year our biggest seller was the 32 inch by far, probably taking up 55-60% of total flat screen sales. But now that dynamic have changed and demand for the 42 inch is coming up very fast, and the 32 inch has slipped from about 60% to 40%.

“At the same time the even bigger screen TVs have also increased in numbers. Screens of 47 inch and above used to account for less than 3% of our business up until last year. This year they account for 10-15%. So you can see a gradual shift in demand for screen sizes, beyond the brand.”