Inside the Township Market

Spaza shops like this one in Walmer township, Gqeberha, are experiencing increased foot count. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE / THE HERALD

Township residents are embracing local brands and prioritising value over loyalty, a new study shows. Increased internet connectivity is also opening doors to digital opportunities, allowing people to explore online entrepreneurship and supplement their incomes.

The latest edition of the Township CX Report is a respondent-driven survey compiled by the Rogerwilco agency and marketers. They take the insights the research provides seriously and adapt strategies to be well-positioned to tap into this thriving market and drive meaningful engagement and growth.

Trust is now a major factor with consumers, who show increased confidence in locally produced products and in spaza shop owners who offer repackaged goods.

Food products that are locally made are particularly popular; just under 50% of respondents had bought food that was prepared and manufactured in their townships. Price is the biggest motivator for purchasing decisions, with 55% of respondents citing it as their main reason for choosing a brand.

The report also says that terms previously associated with high-end international brands, like “handmade” and “bespoke”, now resonate powerfully with an audience eager to lift local businesses. Township brands are gaining recognition for their identity, as each product carries a personal story and is crafted by someone known in the community.

Notably, brands like Bathu, Drip Footwear and Amakipkip are resonating with consumers.

Drip Footwear’s story traces back to 2003, when founder Lekau Sehoana transformed adversity into innovation. Growing up in Ivory Park, Midrand, he had no shoes. Finding an old, tattered sneaker, he reshaped it with denim and polyurethane and, two decades later, the brand is part of the local fashion firmament.

The Bathu brand story is equally inspiring. During a trip to the Middle East, founder Theo Baloyi realised there was no African sneaker brand that embodied an authentic heritage narrative. Bathu is a name derived from the kasi slang for shoes. Baloyi has since opened several stores around the country as well as a warehousing facility in Centurion.

Joburg fashion brand Amakipkip — a colloquial term for coloured popcorn — became a continental hit when the newly formed MTV Base Africa started broadcasting South African music videos to the rest of Africa.

In respect of fashion brands, 6% of respondents say they bought a Bathu-branded item in the past year and just over 4% bought a Drip item in the past 12 months. More than 21% of respondents, aged 25 to 34, spent R1,000-R2,000 on local fashion in the past year.

The CX report says internet connectivity has emerged as a major catalyst for change within townships, creating opportunities for education, information access and income generation.

The report reveals that more than 60% of respondents have either sold products and services online or started working online themselves. Initiatives such as the provision of free Wi-Fi in underserved areas are proving to be game-changers, empowering people to send job applications and get access to educational resources.

But given the high level of internet use, one of the more surprising findings is how few people are using the Wi-Fi offered at taxi ranks. Despite the launch of services like WiTaxi and Sebenza, a mere 35% of respondents claim to have logged on to one of the free services while waiting for or travelling in a taxi.

The report highlights the growing preference for shopping within townships. Spaza shops are experiencing increased foot count, with 51% of respondents reporting daily visits. The support for the local economy is also reflected in the rise of stokvels, with younger generations adopting this community-based saving method, facilitated by digital tools.

Localised delivery companies are gaining traction, offering convenient services tailored to township residents. Brand awareness and utilisation levels of them may lag behind those of national grocers, but the local delivery services are highly popular in their regions.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.