JOHANNESBURG: As new figures indicate that poverty levels in South Africa have been increasing and the economy has fallen into recession, shopping habits are changing accordingly.

According to the latest "Poverty Trends in South Africa" report from Stats SA, more than half of South Africans were poor in 2015. Based on an upper-bound poverty line (UBPL) of R992 per person per month in 2015 prices, that translates to more than 30m South Africans living in poverty.

The situation has not improved since then, with the economy shrinking by 0.3% in the final quarter of last year and by 0.7% in the first quarter, pushing South Africa into an official recession for the first time in eight years.

Researchers have observed how consumers have been adapting their shopping behaviours, including where they shop and what they buy.

“People are reverting to local as they’re not willing to travel to supermarkets due to the rising cost of transport,” explained Esti Prinsloo, consumer insights director at Nielsen.

“They’re therefore looking for stores close to where they live or at places where they catch transport.”

That has meant that people are shopping more frequently at spaza stores, for example, using these informal convenience shops for top up purchases.

In the year to March, Nielsen found that spaza shops had seen “exceptional growth”, with an increase from 45% to 53% of local modern trade shoppers that use spazas, City Press reported.

“In several categories, shoppers have also moved to smaller pack sizes to get to the affordable price point, or larger pack sizes to make use of the value offering when they can afford it,” Prinsloo added.

Those findings chimed with an earlier study from BMi Research, which reported that shoppers would rather buy single products than bulk items in order to get immediate savings at the till.

“They also prefer multiple smaller pack sizes where collectively these are cheaper than larger pack sizes, and would rather buy smaller quantities of a product where they are not prepared to compromise on the brand,” said Gareth Pearson of BMi.

He further noted that consumers were “actively doing pre-shopping research” to seek out the best value before even leaving the house.

And, in their pursuit of frugality, they are no longer buying some items, including breakfast cereals, tomato sauce, double-ply toilet paper and cheese spread.

Data sourced from All Africa, City Press, Business Tech, BBC; additional content by WARC staff