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What everyday South Africans said about how COVID influenced their buying habits

Do you know what really matters to your customers? Do you know what causes them to support one brand and reject another? What causes them to rave about a product to their friends?

The only way for businesses to really know what customers are thinking and how they feel is to ask them! The team at SOKO District conducted interviews with everyday South Africans to learn more about how they choose brands and products, how COVID-19 has affected their shopping habits, and what they expect from good brands. We learned some great lessons and we have compiled the best ones below to help you better understand the world your business now operates in.

Local businesses versus big chain stores

90% of the people we interviewed expressed a passion for supporting local businesses, and businesses that sourced their production materials locally.

The desire to support local businesses is beginning to outweigh the convenience of buying at big chain stores. Customers have become aware of the negative environmental impact that bigger companies are having, not to mention the unethical or cheap labour that these major chain stores are known for worldwide.

During our research, it was clear that many customers experienced an instant disinterest in a business if they were not using local workers, local materials or were not locally based. It doesn’t seem to completely trump the convenience offered by the larger international chain stores, but if a local version of the same product is available and of good quality, these customers would opt for the local one almost every time. Businesses that support other local businesses in their production processes simply show that they care about empowering the community and not just running businesses for their own gain. Supporting local businesses is a way business can come alongside members of the community that may be struggling to make ends meet. Behind local businesses are real people, with the desire to use the skills they must make a living and to give back what they can. This is a movement that is worth being part of and could certainly impact your profitability positively in the long term.

Care about sustainable living

Simply put, being “sustainable” means to exist constantly instead of breaking down and destroying. The customers we interviewed indicated that a brand’s consideration for sustainable operations play an important role in supporting their shopping decisions. Unsustainable practices in retail seems to be a major put-off.

They expressed a specific dislike to the senseless overuse of unrecyclable plastic and excessive packaging.

Customers would also rather pay more for products that they feel would stand the test of time, rather than following every fashion fad pushed along by big retail chains, even when presented with cheaper alternatives. Simply put, if your business hopes to not just survive, but thrive, implementing sustainable retail practices is of major importance. Sustainable shopping starts with a consideration of the raw materials needed to produce an item, the purpose it serves, all the way to the packaging and the disposal of the product. One of the interviewees put it this way: “Sustainability to me is purpose-driven design. I don’t want to just have a plant in my home for the aesthetic. It needs to function and serve my family well.”

Looking for some eco-friendly packaging alternatives? Check out: Environmentally friendly Packaging that Doesn't Cost a Fortune

Tell an authentic brand story

What is the story behind your business? How did you start out? Why did you start this business? What are your core values? These might not seem that relevant to your business’s future, but it certainly matters to customers. What a business stands for, says something about the product that they will deliver.

Customers do not just buy your products because they are good, they also buy into your vision and story.

The most successful small businesses are those that have gathered a community of loyal followers simply by connecting with people and telling their story well whether they do it via Instagram stories, an engaging “about us” section on their website, owning mistakes publicly or responding to the comments and direct messages from their following. The business that makes their story relatable to its audience will naturally have a greater following.

Go the extra mile

When we asked customers about what made a brand truly stand out to them, they seemed to recall special and personalised interactions.

The businesses that they remembered are the businesses that make much of the little that they have, that steward their resources well and pay attention to the small details that make customers feel special and cared for.

This includes how products are presented, the authenticity of a brand, how a product is packaged and presented (handwritten notes are a win), the usability of the website, and the list goes on. People are visual beings by nature and are drawn to beauty and the details that make a product beautiful and desirable.

The brands that are in the good books of the consumers are the one who most successfully deliver on these expectations. If you found these insights helpful, we would love to hear from you. Have you picked up some of these trends from your own friends or customers, are there any that we did not mention?

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