Consumers and Fear in Africa: How are Safety and Wellbeing Concerns Driving Purchasing Habits?

Concerns over safety have an impact on every aspect of consumer decision-making in Africa, from where to live and shop, to the car one drives and the route one takes to and from home. This is because insecurity and fear are normal realities of life on the African continent, from the broader conflicts in countries like Somalia to the high crime rates in Kenya and South Africa, and terrorism in Tunisia.

Key trends


  • Crime scares shoppers away from malls in South Africa;
  • Terrorist threats driving tourists away;
  • Gated community living becoming more popular;
  • Fear of fraud means that consumers still prefer hard cash to online buying. 


Commercial opportunities


  • The continuing need for personal and home security feeds a burgeoning security market on the African continent, and there are plenty of opportunities within this sector;
  • With poor service delivery plaguing many countries, there are growth opportunities for alternate power supplies and service delivery;
  • With many African consumers fearing for their safety in shopping malls, opportunities for smaller retail outlets to promote their shops, and online opportunities, while still in their infancy, are on the rise.


Crime scares shoppers away from malls in South Africa


South Africa has experienced a rising trend of armed robberies in shopping malls since mid 2014, and these have escalated in 2015. Criminals have become brazen in their acts, even entering these malls during broad daylight and at peak shopping times. Jewellery stores, mobile phone shops and restaurants have been prime targets and some of these incidents have resulted in shoot outs between thieves and security guards, leaving consumers injured.

Despite increased security at malls, shoppers have become a lot more cautious. Increased criminal activity in malls has negatively affected both retailers and consumers. This, according to Janine Myburgh, of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce and Industry, speaking to ENCA news channel, is because “Prices go up because you have to have more security you have to get more insurance and people are buying less. So less money is being spent”. These security incidents also leave retailers and their staff with an underlying fear in their workplace. Tracy, a hairdresser working in a Cape Town mall, says that she “always subconsciously thinks of what if we need to evacuate or run.” For this reason she also doesn’t take her children out to shops by herself.


Terrorist threats driving tourists away


With recent events in Tunisia in 2015 and the Kenya mall siege in 2014, fears have arisen not only for local consumers, but also for the foreigners who contribute to these economies. The terrorist attacks in Tunisia have affected the country’s tourist market, which contributes significantly to the country’s economy. As Nadejda Popova, travel analyst at Euromonitor International, told the Guardian after the attacks, tourism growth “was highly dependent on the safety and stability in Tunisia” and travellers were now likely to avoid the country in the short- to medium-term.

In Kenya, the tourism industry has been in decline since militants carried out an attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall in 2013. A more recent attack on a college campus in Garissa by militants in March 2015 has been another huge knock to the industry. According to Reuters, at least 23 hotels closed along Kenya’s coastal region in the first three months of 2015.


Gated community living becoming more popular


High crime rates in countries such as South Africa and Kenya continue to push residents into gated communities with high security and access control. According to a 2015 States SA Victims of Crime Survey, 59.7% of households in South Africa fear house breaking and burglaries, making them the most feared crimes for households. This fear has meant that consumers seek new forms of preventative security measures to ensure their homes are well protected.

This has also fed into consumer fear in the country as whole neighbourhoods end up in the dark at night, and home security systems are deactivated when the power goes out, making them vulnerable to criminals. Many shops, restaurants and other businesses are also forced to close their doors during a power cut. On the other hand, load shedding has created commercial opportunities for some as consumers search for alternate sources of power such as generators and solar heating.


Fear of fraud means that consumers still prefer hard cash to online buying


African consumers still prefer to use hard cash to paying for purchases online. Although they might purchase goods via the internet, many still prefer to pay for their goods via cash on delivery. This is due to concerns regarding the security of online payments. This is especially the case in Nigeria, where online scams are rife. Due to the risks, some online companies have been reluctant to operate in the country. For example, PayPal, the world’s largest online payment processor, was initially reluctant to enter the Nigerian market, only setting up operations there in June 2014.

Kenyans also prefer the cash-on-delivery option. In a 2013 report by Consumer Insight it was found that despite new technologies in retail payment, 90% of the population stills opts to use cash for daily transactions instead or debit or credit card transactions. This is mainly due to the fear of card fraud. Nevertheless, personal credit card transactions have also seen growth in the past five years; between 2011 and 2015, the country experienced, on average, around 7.5% annual growth in personal credit card transactions.

In South Africa, consumers still prefer to physically visit a shop to make their purchase rather than buy online, this according to a March 2015 survey by PriceWaterhouseCooper. MasterCard division president, Philip Panaino, told Business Day that South African consumers want to shop online, “but they are still nervous about doing so”.

Personal Credit Card Transactions, Kenya: 2011-2015

Credit Transactions in Kenya


Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics

Note: Data is modelled



Insecurity and fear are likely to continue to have an impact on the African consumer for the foreseeable future. With increased security measures for online transactions, consumer confidence is likely to pick up, but, for now, cash transactions remain the more popular choice. Personal and home security will remain a central focus for the African consumer, and this will continue to influence all aspects of their decision making.