The ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on South African consumers


Research into prevailing attitudes towards Covid-19 since the pandemic began has delivered insights into the minds of South African consumers over the past 18 months. While GeoPoll’s study covered nine markets, RICARDO LOPES dives into what the findings say about South Africa.

Covid-19 continues to exert immense pressure on the world’s emerging markets, creating economic concerns that rival health concerns. With a third or fourth wave of the virus gripping many countries, it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to get a handle on either of those challenges. 

As a follow up to GeoPoll’s 2020 reports and April 2021 report on the impacts of Covid-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, we conducted a survey in nine countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia to assess the ongoing effects of the pandemic on respondents’ finances, spending and health, their thoughts and concerns about the vaccine, and their hopes for the future. 

The main topics covered include:

  • Changes to consumer income and financial outlook
  • Changes in consumer spending habits
  • Perceptions about government response to the pandemic
  • Concerns about and willingness to take the vaccine 
  • Adherence to public health measures and changes in emotional health

This article draws from that study, focusing on the key takeaways for South Africa. 

Economic impacts of Covid-19


In our previous study on the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 from April 2021, 58% of respondents in South Africa stated their income had decreased since December 2020. The largest segment (41%) said they experienced major decreases. 

That downward trend continues in this study. Facing record-high unemployment rates, 55% of the respondents in South Africa say their income has decreased since April, with 35% saying it has decreased a lot. Women in South Africa have experienced a disproportionate financial impact, with 38% saying their income had decreased compared to 30% of men.

The prevalent drop in income has many concerned about paying their expenses. In South Africa, approximately half (49%) say they are extremely concerned about paying expenses in the next three months – the highest percentage among the nine countries included in this study.

Despite lower incomes, 53% of respondents in South Africa claim their spending on food and other necessities has increased since April due to an increase in prices. To help compensate, 50% are spending less on non-essential items such as luxury goods.

With less money to spend, consumers are more discerning about how they spend it. In a separate GeoPoll study in July 2021 on Consumer Brand Perceptions in South Africa, 64% say how brands reacted to Covid-19 in their advertising influenced which products or brands they purchased.

Ideally, consumers want brands to use their advertising spend for good. Rather than promoting their products in a time of crisis, 71% of respondents in that study say they would like brands to “share helpful Covid information” in their ads. Others would like to see brands put out ads “promoting Covid vaccination” (54%) or “showing the brand helping others or the community” (52%). Practically none believe brands should “ignore Covid-19 in their ads” (3%) or “stop advertising completely” (4%). 

Looking ahead, after dealing with the economic fallout of Covid-19 for more than a year, the highest percentage of respondents in South Africa (31%) remain extremely optimistic about their financial situation improving in the next three months. And more approve of the government’s response to the virus (37%) than disapprove (25%).

How Covid-19 advertising was received


There have been clear winners and losers in the Covid-19 advertising race. Asked which brands responded well to Covid-19 in their advertising, the top two brands mentioned by far, Lifebuoy and Dettol, produced ads informing consumers how to use their soap, sanitiser and disinfectant products to lessen the spread of coronavirus.

Taking a completely different approach, KFC decided to keep its ads light-hearted and entertaining, temporarily blurring out part of the brands well-known slogan, Finger Lickin’ Good, for the sake of public health.

Another noticeable growth trend dictating creative and positioning briefs during the pandemic was the addition of diversity and inclusivity in advertising. Ads portraying people from all backgrounds, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, religion, ability and sexual orientation has always been a foundation of a few brands historically. 

However, 2020/2021 has seen this explode as a core requirement for the majority. According to our research, rightfully so, with approximately half of respondents (49%) considering it “very important” for brands to portray diversity and inclusivity in their advertising. That number jumps to 62% for respondents aged 15-25, demonstrating heightened social consciousness in the younger demographic.

Societal impacts of Covid-19


According to experts, limiting both the spread and seriousness of infections and returning to normal activities largely hinge on the availability and distribution of vaccines. In another optimistic trend, 62% of respondents in South Africa say they would probably or definitely get the vaccine right away compared to 54% in GeoPoll’s study from April 2021. As they waited for the vaccine to become available, 84% claimed to always wear a mask in public – more than any other country in this study.

South Africa has suffered the highest rate of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Africa. Missteps in the government’s rollout of the vaccine have left millions unvaccinated as the country faced a third wave of the pandemic. It follows that 60% of respondents from South Africa say their concern about Covid-19 is higher or much higher than it was in April. Only 13% say their concern has lessened.

Despite these elevated levels of concern, respondents appear to be learning how to cope with the pandemic. Most (55%) claim their emotional health is better or much better now than it was in April. South Africa does have the highest percentage of respondents that say their emotional health has worsened, however, at 22% (compared to 12% across all nine countries).

About this survey


This study was conducted using GeoPoll’s mobile web platform in July 2021 in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Egypt, Brazil, Colombia, and China. The sample size was approximately 400 respondents per country and 3 600 in total, which provides a 5% margin of error and a 95% confidence interval. 

Although not purely scientific, as there were no strict measures to limit demographic quotas, a great mix was achieved, with a gender composition of 46% females and 54% males; an age breakdown of 32% ages 16-25, 34% ages 26-35, and 34% ages 36 and over; and some representation from every ADM1 location within each country.

GeoPoll is the pioneer in conducting remote research through mobile-based methodologies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Our custom research capabilities allow agencies, brands, and international development organisations to conduct one-off or ongoing surveys on any topic, with results delivered in near real-time. 

To download the full report for free or view the survey data in an interactive dashboard, visit the GeoPoll website


Ricardo Lopes is GeoPoll’s Regional Director Southern Africa. He is a commercial specialist with over 10 years’ experience in managing teams. His background is strongly rooted in media with a thorough understanding of the integral role of communication channels. While at GeoPoll, Lopes has spearheaded the launch of various market research innovation initiatives that have addressed complex African specific data collection challenges. These innovation initiatives have won global acclaim at IIeX Europe. He holds a Bcom Honours Degree in Marketing with an undergrade in Economics from Monash University. 

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