South African Consumers Cut Spending, Battle to Pay Bills as Economic Pressure Grows
- Quarterly TransUnion Consumer Pulse study finds stagnant household incomes and rising inflation taking their toll
- South Africa’s retail sector expected to feel ongoing strain over the festive season with two out of three (67%) consumers surveyed, early November, indicating they reduced discretionary spending (i.e., dining out, travel and entertainment) over the past three months
- Paying down debt faster remained a priority for more than a third (37%) of South Africans surveyed as interest rates continued to rise
Soaring inflation and economic pressures are taking their toll on South African consumers. According to research conducted by TransUnion at the beginning of November 2022, two in three consumers (67%) have cut their discretionary spending in the past three months – but even with these cutbacks, at least one in three (38%) consumers say they are unable to pay their bills and loans in full.
According to the TransUnion’s Q4 Consumer Pulse Study, household incomes remained stagnant, with the percentage of consumers reporting an increase in household income (36%) unchanged from the previous quarter. The number of households reporting a decrease in income (23%) increased by four percentage points, with job losses (23%) and reduction in salary and wages (20%) as primary factors.
Weihan Sun, Director of Research and Consulting at TransUnion Africa, said a continued high inflationary environment coupled with more anticipated interest rate hikes was likely to tip more consumers into default, with severe repercussions for the local retail sector.
During 2022, consumers saw inflation climb from 5.7% in January to 7.6% in October, peaking at 7.8% (a 13-year high) in July. Non-durable goods price inflation accelerated from 9.8% to 14.4% in Q2 2022. Sharp fuel and food price increases primarily contributed to consumer goods inflation. By the beginning of November, the price of diesel (R25.49) was 48% higher than 12 months before (R17.19), and the price of petrol was 17% higher. Meat prices increased 9.4% year-on-year (YoY), bread and cereals were up 13.7%, and the price of oils and fats was up 36.2%.
“We’re seeing clear signs of financial stress emerging, and we expect to see further cutbacks in spending across all categories. These sentiments will have significant implications for the South African retail sector, which was already feeling the strain at the end of Q3, declining by 1.9% in sales volume. Retailers were hopeful for a resurgence in consumer spending during the festive season, however, with the cost of goods increasing dramatically, affordability will be top of mind for consumers,” said Sun.
Signs of distress were particularly evident among Gen X consumers (born 1965–1979). Despite improvements in credit delinquency rates in Q3, one in three Gen Xers (33%) expected to be unable to repay their current debts in Q4, and more than half (62%) reported an inability to service current obligations fully. Forty-one percent of consumers who cannot fully service their debts do plan on paying partial amounts.
Approximately 45% of consumers expect to decrease their retail shopping activities, 58% expect to cut back on discretionary spending (i.e. eating out and travel), and 46% expect a decrease in large purchase (i.e. appliances and cars).
The importance of addressing outstanding debt was evident across all age groups. Paying down debt faster remained a priority for more than a third (37%) of South Africans surveyed as interest rates continued to rise. A third of respondents (34%) said they’re saving more in emergency funds in preparation for unforeseen payment shocks, an increase of four percentage points from the prior year. The most recent interest rate increase (which was the cycle’s eighth) reflects a total increase of 350 basis points since November 2021.
“If interest rate hikes continue, consumers may feel added pressure on their wallets. The significant increase in monthly repayment values on home loans and vehicle finance facilities will likely inhibit consumers’ abilities to service other forms of debt, as they often prioritise secured lending products,” said Sun.
Most consumers surveyed (92%) believe access to credit is essential, but only 42% of respondents feel they have enough access, and 32% said they don’t. Nearly all (95%) Gen Z consumers (born 1995–2004) consider access to credit important, but only 62% believed they needed more access. The most significant demand for new credit is coming from Gen Z (42%) and Millennials (born 1980–1994, 40%).
Managing financial choices
As digital platforms continue to evolve, online transactions have become the norm. Nearly two thirds (64%) of consumers conduct at least a quarter (25%) of their transactions online. Only Baby Boomers (born 1944-1964) conduct less than 60% of their transactions online.
Most consumers agree monitoring their credit reports is very (31%) or extremely important (36%), and two in three (67%) check their credit reports at least every quarter. Over half (54%) of consumers believe their credit scores would change if alternative data is included in a credit report.
Consumers can get their free annual credit report from TransUnion here
 TransUnion’s Consumer Pulse survey of 1,003 adults was conducted between 3–15 November 2022 by TransUnion in partnership with third-party research provider, Dynata. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in South Africa were surveyed using an online research panel method across a combination of desktop, mobile and tablet devices. Survey questions were administered in English. To increase representativeness across resident demographics, the survey included quotas to balance responses to the census statistics dimensions of age, gender, household income and region. These research results are unweighted and statistically significant at a 95% confidence level within ±3.09 percentage points based on a calculated error margin.