Businesses don’t exist without consumers. Without them, ventures are, at best, funded ideas. In Nigeria, the consumer demographic is complex and dynamic. And that has a two-edged meaning for businesses seeking scale: they are hard to understand for the average player, but those who crack them edge out competition faster.

This ought to be the part where we load up old statistics about a “growing middle class” to prove why Nigeria is a potentially huge consumer market. But the truth is, there is very little public data about this income class. Analysts have long tried to measure them by counting people within somewhat arbitrary income ranges. These days, we use contextual data by referring to ownership of “bourgeois” assets such as fridges. Various studies say about 1822% of Nigerian households own refrigerators.

Last year, Fraym, an analytics firm, estimated that Africa’s consumer class had 330 million people. That’s roughly a quarter of the continent’s population. Most of these consumers (two-thirds) were in just five countries (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco and Algeria). But this is where it gets tricky. When people analyse Africa’s consumer class, they risk implying that several million people will walk into malls and load up their trolleys daily. Even when adjusted for the different prices of goods in various places (“purchasing-power parity”), the average GDP per person in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022 was $4,400, according to the World Bank. That’s about one-twelfth of Britain’s.

Nigeria’s consumer market was in a fierce race with inflation in 2023. High fuel prices and the naira’s heavy devaluation drove inflation to an 18-year high of 28.2%. And so, several trends have emerged from their bids to adjust to these trends. These are five consumer trends we noticed among Nigerians in 2023.

Collective buying

It’s common knowledge that bulk buying is a generally cheaper way to shop. But the caveat is that this system requires relatively high purchasing power from the consumer. This fact alienates a large percentage of Nigerian buyers. Producers have known this for long. That’s why the FMCG market has relied strongly on a sachet economy to drive sales.

However, several Nigerians now use collective buying, aided by social media, to get cheaper food. They set up online communities on WhatsApp and Facebook to pool funds together to bulk-shop directly from producers and share among themselves. Group moderators often handle procurement by communicating with food producers or suppliers to negotiate prices and oversee deliveries to members. Some others run a more ‘open’ system that allows members to do the same.

In March, Rest of World tracked nine bulk-buying groups across Lagos, Calabar, Uyo, Port Harcourt, Enugu, and Abuja. They found that the food items sourced were up to 22% cheaper than in regular markets. These groups, several of which have over 500 members. Ventures Africa tracked four in December.

Some businesses have also thrived off this trend. An example is Lagos Butcher, who helps food businesses and households with bulk procurement of meat.

Alternative energy

People are seeking alternatives to petrol. One of the most noticeable trends in 2023 was the increased demand for alternative energy sources, including solar, CNG (Compressed natural gas) and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). But this trend has very little to do with climate change. 

Since Bola Tinubu declared an end to petrol subsidies, the energy markets haven’t been the same. Fuel prices spiked 175% overnight, disrupting the economics of a generator-dependent nation. Prices have risen even further since then, reaching an average of N617/litre from May’s N180/litre.

As a result, Nigerians are seeking cheaper energy sources to light up their homes and fuel their vehicles. This trend is notable because power generation has not been one of the country’s strengths for decades. Nigeria’s power sector generates only about 5,000 MW of electricity. Meanwhile, Nigerians privately produce at least double as much electricity. In Lagos, the country’s busiest and most productive state, nearly 70% of households aren’t connected to the grid. As a result, alternatives like solar and gas power became more popular this year.

Sport betting

Nigeria might not have a Las Vegas Valley, but that hasn’t stopped it from developing a thick gambling culture. Around 57.2% of school-age children in Nigeria were estimated to have gambled at least once in their lifetime, according to a 2019 paper on gambling in the country. In 2020, Nigeria’s sports betting industry crossed $2 billion. But this year saw a visible rise in this habit, fueled by economic hardships, deeper internet penetration and aggressive marketing by betting companies.

The Executive Secretary of the National Lottery Trust Fund (NLTF) said “Over 65 million Nigerians actively engaging in this activity, spending $15 on average every day. On record daily, 14 million bets are taken, and payments are made online.”

On Nigerian social media, online betting is promoted mainly via direct ads by betting houses or independent creators endorsing betting platforms. Also, punters seeking to grow online ‘communities’ spam comment sections or keyword bomb Twitter trends with betting tips and ‘codes’.

For most people, sports betting is not a mere hobby. The desire for quick money has become hotter, especially among young Nigerians. There are 133 multidimensional poor people, 71 million of whom live in extreme poverty in Nigeria. The country also has a severe productivity shortage as only 11.8% of employed Nigerians were primarily engaged in wage jobs in Q1 2023, according to the NBS.

Survival-first

Nigeria’s consumer market played the ‘Hunger Games’ this year. What this means is they will kill off any expenditure competing with survival. This is not exactly new, but it has become more prevalent. According to the World Bank, household consumption expenditure declined from 77% in 2018 to 62% in 2021 because of inflation. There’s no newly published stat on consumption expenditure in Nigeria, but the results are not hard to imagine now that inflation is at an 18-year high.

Nigeria’s last published report on household expenditure (2019) said residents spend 57% of their earnings on food. This year, PiggyVest, one of the country’s foremost fintech companies, said 87% of its surveyed customers spent most of their earnings on food. Utility bills were a distant second at 58%. This is one of the reasons why the transport sector entered a recession this year. Many people cut down commuting expenditures to prioritise survival.

Social commerce

Several times this year, we have covered some of the struggles e-commerce companies face(d) in Nigeria. From difficult funding to evasive profits and logistic challenges, it’s a grinding task. Many analysts point to Nigeria’s tough macroeconomic climate as the main culprit. But while that’s true, the country has also become a hotbed for social commerce.

Vendors and customers are adopting a DIY approach to online trade where social media, rather than e-commerce platforms, is their marketplace. Why does this work so well? Nigerians are chronically online. According to the Global Web Index, Nigeria’s 31.6 million social media users spend more time on social networks than any other country.

Some businesses have also emerged from this appeal. An example is Vendorstack, which helps small businesses create web pages to chat with customers and sell online, backed by verification and escrow accounts to reduce fraud.

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow