Why a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in Africa

A recent report by research company Nielsen highlights the large income disparities and diverse attitudes that exist among African consumers, leading to very different spending and media consumption habits.

Shopping patterns differ widely across African countries.

For companies targeting the African consumer, a one-size-fits-all approach will therefore not deliver the desired results. “As the tactics and strategies needed to reach consumers across Africa require different approaches due to varied beliefs and behaviours, each country also requires a unique strategy,” says the report.

For the survey Nielsen studied urban and peri-urban consumers in seven African countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Income disparities

Significant income inequalities exist on the continent. For example, respondents in Nigeria earned an average of US$850 per month, which is considerably more than the average salaries of less than $300 per month in Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia.

Shopping patterns

Shopping behaviour differs widely across the countries included in the survey.

Nigerians spend the most on packaged consumer goods, while those living in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya spend the least.

“In Ethiopia, only daily essentials like teas, coffee and cooking oil have high penetration and consumers are likely to shop for products on discount. Tanzania has the highest number of categories with penetration above 75% and consumers are likely to keep up with the latest trends in fashion and technology,” says Nielsen.

The report notes that traditional retail outlets dominate in most countries, although in Kenya modern supermarkets are growing in popularity.


“Of all the media in Africa, the mobile phone has proven to be the fastest growing over recent years.”

In the countries surveyed, 86% of respondents own a mobile phone. The majority of mobile subscribers are prepaid users.

Television and radio penetration are also high in most of the countries included in the survey.

Zambia lags the other countries across most media penetration, with the exception of radio and newspapers, which keep stride with the average. Kenyan consumers exhibit higher usage levels across all media, especially the internet, social media and print,” says Nielsen.

Attitudes and beliefs

The survey found that most Africans attach importance to spending time with their families and planning for the future.

However, attitudes towards technology, fashion and how to spend leisure time vary greatly. “At one end of the spectrum, Nigerian consumers are technology savvy, fashionable, willing to try new things, individualistic and also brand loyal. Conversely, Ethiopian consumers are not fashion conscious and brand loyal, prefer to look natural and are constrained by life’s circumstances.”

Nielsen concludes by saying that “getting into the mind of the African consumer to understand the beliefs and attitudes that drive buy and watch behaviours will be key to unlocking Africa’s potential”.