Kenyans are getting more concerned about their economic welfare as the coronavirus approaches its fourth month, forcing them to seek financial solace in digital loans to offset short term home budget requirements, a new report indicates.

Consumers’ spending habits, according to Boston Consulting Group’s Consumer Sentiments Survey conducted in April and May this year, have changed accordingly.

The percentage of respondents who have had to seek short-term credit doubled in the month between the first and second waves of the survey.

“In May, 29 percent responded that they had taken out a short-term loan, compared to 16 percent in April. Mobile money operators were the most common sources of this credit, with the vast majority of those loans — 88 percent — coming from M-Shwari, Fuliza, or KCB-Mpesa,” the report indicates.

In the same month, concerns about Covid-19 was still at the top of consumers’ minds, but only slightly ahead of several rising socio-economic concerns arising from business closures, loss of jobs and increased poverty that created a new wave of psychological and financial panic and fear.

“These fears are based in reality, as 92 percent of the Kenyan consumers surveyed reported they are currently experiencing a negative impact on their household income; and only seven percent said they felt no negative effects on their household income,” Takeshi Oikawa, one of the authors of the report, told Afcacia.

But concerns about the ability to meet personal financial obligations have risen. While 59 percent reported that they were worried about being able to meet their obligations in April, that percentage had risen to 68 percent in May.

Monthly mortgage and rent payments top the list of concerns, followed by utilities, then school fees, short-term loan payments, and support for extended family members.

A third of those surveyed said that they are already in financial trouble, and 40 percent feel financially vulnerable.

“Most don’t expect a quick recovery, either; 70 percent said they believe it will take at least six months to rebound financially, and 23 percent think that recovery is more than a year away.”

Boston Consulting Group’s Consumer Sentiments Survey, May 2020

Income insecurity means that Kenyan consumers are focused on reducing their spending, at least in the short term. Many of those surveyed are not sure they’ll be able to maintain their current income levels in the next month.

As consumer concerns rise, spending patterns are shifting away from discretionary products and services towards those deemed essential such as groceries and staples, fresh food, baby food and products.

“Kenyans are spending less on clothing and shoes, eating at restaurants, cosmetics and alcohol. These shifts are similar to those we see in other emerging economies,” said Mr Oikawa.

Concerns about rising prices and potential shortages are also driving consumers’ spending decisions. 43 percent of the Kenyan consumers surveyed said they’d be spending “somewhat more” or “a lot more” on fresh foods.

Of those consumers, two-thirds said they expect prices to rise in the next month, and about half of those spending more fear that supplies are running low. 

Every consumer is looking for bargains. Respondents said that they plan to shift to more economical brands in all spending categories, particularly in fresh foods, hair, personal care products and household goods.

These shifts are happening quickly, and those surveyed said they plan to change brands within a month, but may well persist beyond the immediate crisis.

The one exception to this shift in brand loyalties is in the category of more expensive durable goods, where African consumers traditionally prefer long-established, high-quality brands. Since these products represent investments for cash-strapped consumers, durability is important.

The BCG survey found that this continues to be true for Kenyan consumers even during the pandemic, as 32 percent said that they will “trade up” in their next consumer electronics purchase, 33 percent will buy higher-quality mobile phones, and 18 percent will buy higher-quality home appliances.

However, the Kenyan market shows signs of resilience. Although most of those surveyed said they believed the world was in serious danger, the worst is yet to come, and that a recession is coming, those percentages declined from the April survey.

Kenyan consumers were more concerned with preserving health and safety than with their economic well-being in April, a month after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country.

Citizens are taking charge of their own wellness and are following medical advice by wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers, and washing their hands more frequently than they were before the outbreak.

“Almost 75 percent of those surveyed said that they’re getting updates about the virus at least once or twice a day,” the report says.

Some consumers expressed that they will resume normal activity when Kenya has no new cases, or when the government opens public spaces again.

Most said that normal activity will resume when the government eases travel restrictions, and Kenya goes two weeks without a new case.

For a few respondents, though, normal activity won’t return until the global number of new Covid-19 cases reach zero.​

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