How COVID-19 is changing the retail landscape in Ethiopia

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Although Covid-19 has presented businesses with a variety of problems, risks and fears; it has also represented them with new opportunities. Some of these are obvious, for example the ability to have staff working from home, perhaps making this the new norm. While other opportunities may require having insight into what consumers are thinking, so one can pivot their business towards those needs.

Several weeks ago, a media partner requested a short brief on three major findings to cover the study on their business show. Findings requested were on: 1) Ethiopian consumer fear index and priorities in this COVID-19 crisis, 2) Supply chain gaps on basic consumers’ items and 3) Media preference as a source of information during this pandemic.

Consumer and business confidence at a low

Concerns raised by the coronavirus vary from person to person, and country to country. Whereas some individuals, or the majority of one particular region may be more worried about being infected by the virus, others are concerned because they’re unable to pay for their basic needs due to loss of employment. On the other hand, some people might be concerned about their own emotional well-being as self-isolation due to the global lockdown presents its own problems and may lead to feelings of loneliness and even depression.

In Ethiopia, the major concern at the time of the study, was more related to the health implications of the virus. Of the people that were concerned about the economic implications, they were worried about the impact of Covid-19 on the country’s economy, rather than just their income and financial well-being.

The supply chain gap is causing shortages

The panic of the coronavirus, announcement of a global lockdown even between African borders, and the inability of some industries to continue operating, all led to strains on the supply of certain goods as individuals were buying certain goods like hand sanitizer and staple foods in preparation to be protected from the effects of the pandemic.

87% of consumers in Ethiopia stated that there was a shortage in the market on protective products, such as masks and sanitizers. Furthermore, 44% of consumers reported that there was shortage on staple foods like Teff, Injera, etc. As the panic struck, lots of individuals went out to purchase a lot of staple foods in bulk so that they wouldn’t have to leave their homes and potentially be exposed to the virus.

Media preferences

Having access to information, the correct information, has been vital to most consumers during the Covid-19 era. Updates of the death rate, reports on the state of events, and hopes of a vaccine are some of the news most consumers look to find through the media. However, consumers are aware that some media reports may be uploaded by untrustworthy sources, aiming to push their own agendas.

Our survey found that the majority of Ethiopians view television as their main source of receiving reliable information. Television is source of information for 83% of the consumers surveyed and as a trusted medium for 81%. Internet follows with 66% and 44% respectively; Facebook is a source of information for 53% of the same group. However, when it comes to trust, individuals believe that the information they receive via radio is more reliable than Facebook.

Implications for brands

As mentioned, the coronavirus presents a lot of new opportunities for businesses, some of which can only be tapped into with the right research and knowledge. Based on the Ethiopian Report, brands can use these findings to approach the production and distribution of their products in a more innovative manner.

Firstly, brands need to ensure that consumers are aware that they’re following health practices as outlined by national and international health boards. This means that they’ll contribute to minimizing the health impact of the pandemic both within households, and countrywide.

Secondly, as there’s been a shortage in protective gear and certain foods, brands can tap into these markets (even if these aren’t their typical niches) and create an alternative source of income for themselves by producing and distributing these much needed products.

Lastly, brands should invest their marketing and advertising efforts on the platforms consumers use to find information.

Additional data points

In light of the economic state of the country, consumers are spending less on non-essential items, with 67% of surveyed respondents stating that they don’t think that this is the best time to purchase large appliances like television sets, refrigerators and furniture. Brands, therefore, need to focus on producing and distributing smaller appliances, and introduce other benefits like price reductions or credit sales.

Also, online shopping in Ethiopia is still low, with only 0.47% of respondents saying that they now shop online rather than going to a grocery store. It seems the majority (18.82%) still prefers shopping at a grocery store, but they’ve simply cut down on the number of times they go to the store - with some individuals (6.82%) going at times when they believe it will be less busy. Here, businesses can introduce online shopping as the safer option for consumers.

Finally, the fear index of surveyed Ethiopians remains high as 70.35% of respondents stated that they’re concerned about the coronavirus, and 92% expect the economic situation to worsen over the next 4-6 months. Again, this represents an opportunity for businesses to show empathy towards their customers, easing their fear, and perhaps supporting communities in need if they’re financially able to do so.

In conclusion, the coronavirus doesn’t have to come with a long period of inertia. Now is the time for businesses to bring out their innovation, break the boundaries they’ve set for themselves and make use of appropriate research and insights to build brands that cannot be shaken by pandemics. Always think of your customers, and their needs in producing and distributing products and services that have appeal to the majority.

By polling thousands of Africans in 10 different countries, we have collected and organized this data for you. This takes the guesswork out of business planning during these unusual times.

We are happy to answer questions about how our data can help you and your business. Feel free to email us at If you are ready to make data-driven strategic marketing and business decisions, you can sign up for immediate access to the data. Visit to get started.

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