Morocco’s new consumer society

With increasing wealth and exposure to global trade, the Moroccan lifestyle is slowly being transformed. An expert at Morocco’s leading business school gives some pointers on understanding the changes.

By Imane El Ghazali Professor of Economics ESCA School of Management

By Imane El Ghazali
Professor of
ESCA School of

According to the Moroccan High Planning Commission, my country is a balanced mix of classes. The middle class is 53%, while the lower class is 34% and the upper class has 13%. The majority (44.5%) of the middle class is salaried, while 30% are self-employed. Monthly earnings range from $320 to $765 (MAD 2,800 to MAD 6,736).

Moroccans are hard-working and thrifty. On average, in 2011 we saved about 18% of our disposable income. Yet, we also know how to spend our hardearned dirhams. Real consumption per capita increased by 4.1% in 2011 to $1,760 (MAD 15,500).

According to Euromonitor, disposable income per capita has increased annually since 2004 and was about $2,000 (MAD 16,831) in 2011. The increase in disposable income has enabled Moroccans to acquire products that were once considered luxuries. This increase is due to the significant wave of investment carried out in recent years on infrastructure and projects with strategic impact.

Traditionally Moroccan society consisted of large families living under one roof. This culture has changed to more individualistic habits. The family unit is more fragmented with households of two to three people becoming more numerous. Marriage has also changed. In the 1960s, most women married at 17 and men at 24 years. Today the average age of marriage is 29 and 32 years, respectively.

Consumption patterns have also changed. Smaller households seek easy-of-use and time-saving products and services. This means a greater demand for appliances, frozen food and ready-made meals. The workday has also changed with longer working and more irregular working hours and shorter lunch breaks. This may explain the explosion of home delivery and fast food.

With spending on basics (housing, food, health) now covered, Moroccans are free to splurge on communication, entertainment and travel. This means distribution channels have changed as well. Corner grocery stores and traditional open air markets are giving way to supermarkets and hypermarkets (Marjane, Acima, Carrefour, Label’Vie and BIM), particularly in urban areas. Women are taking on greater responsibility in spending decisions, whereas this task was traditionally the purview of the male head of household.

Spending on healthcare has experienced strong growth since the government decreed wider access to medical care (RAMED). As for education, the growth of private schools shows that Moroccans have lost some of their faith in public schooling, and that they have greater disposable income available for education. Nonetheless, these expenditures remain small at only 2.4% of household spending in 2010.

Although the majority of travel is by taxi or bus (a city bus ticket costs $0.40), access to private vehicles is growing fast. Some of us prefer to use scooters or small motorbikes because of urban congestion.

Formal and informal retail co-exist in Morocco. Increasing wealth stimulates formal retail, the new Morocco Mall in Casablanca being a prime example. Opened in December 2011, this is the biggest mall in Africa with 600 major brands and an enormous indoor aquarium. Yet Casablanca also hosts traditional markets for food, clothing and other basic necessities.

Cafés play an important part in our lives as popular meeting places, especially for men, and particularly for lower income people. The arrival of various chains (such as Paul, Starbucks and Venezia Ice) has changed the landscape. Women and couples now flock to these trendy places, which are very popular on weekends.

Dress habits follow the urban-rural divide. Rural areas (and the poor) tend to stick to traditional garb (such as the djellaba). Residents of big cities follow and purchase the latest fashions, especially younger people which explains the presence of different international brands (Zara, Mango, Diesel, Massimo Dutti, Celio, H & M) and strong national brands, such as Marwa.

In poor neighborhoods and rural areas, traditional markets are still the main place of purchase. They offer low prices and the possibility of bargaining, an entrenched habit among most Moroccans.

Online shopping is still nascent. Most Moroccan consumers prefer personal contact because shopping is considered entertaining but also because they are wary of giving credit card numbers online. But since Moroccans are very price-sensitive and good deals are sometimes to be had online, we expect e-shopping to grow.

Information technology and telecoms have also helped revolutionize the communication habits of Moroccans. Three telephony and Internet operators (Maroc Telecom, Meditel and INWI) compete for business and almost two million households have Internet access.

The Moroccan economy is evolving rapidly, becoming one of the most dynamic in the MENA region and an attractive destination for international investors. ●

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