“Nigerian consumers fall broadly into two categories,” explains Dr. Uchenna Uzo, marketing lecturer at Lagos Business School. “Price-sensitive customers represent approximately 70% of the population, while quality-sensitive are about 30%. Why? About 71.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, and cost tends to be their primary concern.”

Richer, more quality-sensitive consumers tend to be more concerned about issues such as the durability of products and the convenience of purchasing; they usually seek information from experts before making buying decisions, especially in the retail sector. Price is still a consideration for them, but not as much as with the first group

Informal vs. organized retail

Consumer behavior is marked by the strength of the informal (as opposed to the organized) market. Customers rely on both organized and informal markets, particularly for goods such as electronics, textiles, car repair services. Therefore the segmentation between organized and informal is more relevant than the rural/urban divide.

“Generally speaking, rural consumers are less educated, have lower levels of disposable income, tend to buy to meet short-term needs, have limited product exposure and knowledge, display strong bargaining skills, and overall have fewer needs due to subsistence-level living,” explains Dr. Uzo. “On the other hand, urban consumers are better educated, have a larger variety of needs, are generally more sophisticated, and are more likely to demand improvements in products or delivery from suppliers.”

The spending priorities reflect this hierarchy: basic needs (food, health) come first, followed by items such as education, utilities, travel, leisure, etc.

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For Dr. Uzo other factors that shape consumer behavior in Nigeria include age (and its corollary marital status), family size, profession (also part-time vs. full-time employment), certain seasonal and festive periods (retailers usually move higher volumes at these times and price accordingly), and finally religion.

Because of the large segment of low-income consumers and their price-sensitivity, companies have introduced small sachets of food products, and low denominations of mobile phone credit, thus pulling consumers out of the informal market into the lower end of organized retail.

Some unusual traits

Bargaining is a big part of the consumer experience. Tactics tend to vary along ethnic lines and the value of the product being purchased. Bargaining is commonplace in the entire informal sector, but is more limited in the organized segments – even Nigerians love a discount, just like any one else! Ethno-religious sensitivities are another important marketing factor to be taken into account. Obviously sales of alcohol and cigarettes are geographically biased, since consumers can be wary of cultural taboos. On the whole, pragmatism drives consumer behavior more than ethnicity or religion.

“Nigerians are definitely a fun-loving people,” says Dr. Uzo, “but their leisure activities may seem strange to an American or European. Our weekends often focus on family-driven events, such as birthdays or celebrations. Just about any occasion is good for a celebration: weddings, births, anniversaries, even work-related festivities. Bakeries produce elaborate cakes with colorful frosting and lettering.”

Sports and fitness is not yet part of Nigerian routine, with joggers and cyclists receiving amused stares. “Sightseeing or window-shopping in commercial malls is also gaining traction,” concludes Dr. Uzo.

What about technology?

Like many emerging markets, Nigeria has a two-stroke technology engine, as explains Dr. Yinka David-West, lecturer in management information systems at the Lagos Business School.

“Technology is predominantly used by the youth (those aged 18-35), mainly for social purposes and content sharing (Facebook, Twitter, news outlets, etc),” Dr. David-West says. “Simultaneously, there is a distrust of technology, especially among the elderly and with regard to financial transactions, where new technologies are not considered secure enough.”

Laments Dr. David-West: “Among the obstacles confronting further technological spread in Nigeria, I think language issues, lack of local content production and lack of local manufacturing are key blocks.”

Given the large number of non-English native speakers, content in Yoruba, Hausa or other languages is spreading. Also facilitating the spread of computing is the rise of mobile internet, which offers good possibilities for rural adaptation (Internet kiosks rather than Internet cafes, which closed down progressively).

“You must realize that mobile platforms for telephony (which are multi-purpose, easy to use, accessible) are offering strong competition to computing,” explains Dr. David-West.

Long-term technology prospects

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Financial services show good potential, namely via the more trusted mobile platforms. Banking is an area of strong growth. Other prospects come from enhanced localization.

“Once further adaptation or development for the local environment is made, then we’ll be able to figure out the actual value of the Nigerian internet economy and its sustainability,” says Dr. David-West. “As we mature, further cultural implications will appear.”

Beyond technology, according to Dr. Uzo, sectors marked for growth as societal trends develop include telecoms (spurred by Nigerians’ desire to do business and communicate), entertainment (movies, live performances, music), organized retail (e.g. Shoprite, Massmart chains of modern hyper- or supermarkets), and hospitality. The growth is clearly visible already, especially in urban centers.