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1 July 2020

Consumers pay close attention to grocery retailers' Covid-19 health & safety measures

DataEQ and Bonsella analyse grocery shopping during Covid-19

A new report published by DataEQ, using consumer insights from rewards programme Bonsella, suggests South African cash-strapped consumers are not just concerned about pricing but also about the measures taken by retailers to ensure shopper safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report analyses DataEQ’s social media data and Bonsella’s consumer survey data to assess shifts in buying habits and consumer priorities during the pandemic. Bonsella is an innovative consumer rewards programme located in 150 tier 2 independent retailers across South Africa. The programme rewards customers with instant airtime to their mobile phones.

Commenting on the findings, DataEQ chief executive, Nic Ray said: “Since the lockdown, complaints about retailers have focused on Covid-19 issues such as price changes, stockouts, and store hygiene. And while pricing is unsurprisingly consumers’ chief concern in deciding where to shop, across all LSMs, people are acutely aware of the safety and health measures retailers are taking around Covid-19. These measures are influencing where people are deciding to do their shopping.”

Shoppers expect in-store Covid-19 safety protocols

The majority of shoppers surveyed wanted Covid-19 safety protocols implemented by retailers. Social media conversations about branch or store physical safety had the second-largest increase during lockdown increasing by 11.7 points, and complaints about it increased by 13.5 points. Shoppers expected retailers to adhere to social distancing measures and took to social media to praise those that met their expectations and criticise those that did not.


Bonsella Survey

39.1% of customers said the main reasons why they shopped at their primary store was due to Covid-19 safety measures and store sanitation.

Bonsella Survey2

Social distancing at checkout-tills was the most desired in-store Covid-19 safety measure mentioned by 70.7% of those surveyed. This was followed by shoppers wearing masks (68.5%) and staff wearing masks (57.6%).

According to Andrew Weinberg, CEO of Retail Engage, which owns the bonsella brand, there has been significant shift in consumer adoption to health precautions in stores, over the last three months. Most stores implemented the appropriate health and safety measures quite quickly resulting consumer confidence and continued support of the stores.

The most valuable resources and indicator on “what is happening on the ground” is the analysis of consumer buying behaviour, combined with intercept consumer research and review of historical trendlines. Retail Engage has staff located in stores throughout South Africa, and the feedback and research surveys from these staff has been extremely valuable.

Pricing is a deciding factor for shoppers

81.5% of surveyed shoppers chose their primary store based on price, followed by specials and sales (52.2%). On social media, affordability and changes in pricing were conversation topics that had the largest increases during the lockdown. Consumers took to digital channels to complain about price-hikes in particular, leading to a 14.7 point increase in complaints about changes in pricing and an 11.6 point increase in complaints about competition and price-fixing.

Shift in sentiment volumes

Consumers shop less often but spend more per visit as basket value increased by 30%

Since lockdown began, consumers have made less frequent visits to shops but are spending more per visit. Some survey respondents said they had been purchasing groceries in larger quantities to decrease the number of visits made to the shops, while others did so because of concern over stock-outs and forthcoming price hikes.

sales data


Social media data

A total of 806 682 social media mentions were retrieved for the period from 16 January to 17 May 2020 from SA’s major tier-one retailers. 131 330 of these mentions were sent to the DataEQ Crowd for verification resulting in a 0.25% margin of error within a 95% confidence level. Data sources included all main social networks namely Twitter, Facebook, Instagram as well as multiple other online sources.

Consumer data

Bonsella retrieved consumer spend data for the same period from a total of 155 tier-two retail stores in rural and peri-urban areas across South Africa (the “Bonsella store universe”). Data retrieved was aggregated through a centralised data warehouse, and the following insights were reported: basket analysis, product and category share, average pricing, purchase trends and consumer demographics.

Survey data

Two customer research surveys were conducted over the period from 28 May to 1 June 2020 with a sample size of n = 107 (Purchase Behaviour Survey) and n = 92 (Retailer Choice Survey).

Respondents were selected from two samples of 2 000 active customers (customers who swiped their Bonsella rewards card in the last 30 to 60 days). The samples were selected based on demographic indicators to ensure a representative sample of the Bonsella universe. i.e. Age - random sample. Gender - 70F : 30M split

  • Tier 1 retailers refer to the major, national retail groups and chains i.e. Shoprite, Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar, Woolworths.
  • Tier 2 retailers refer to the large independent retailers i.e. Save Stores, Goal, Choppies, Macksons, Checksave, In-Out.
  • Tier 3 refers to small independent stores
  • Tier 4 refers to informal trade and spaza shops

A complete analysis is contained in the report

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