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Home Is Where The Economy Is

Two years ago, a homebody was someone that preferred the calm of their house to the human roller coaster of social interactions outside it. Thanks to the pandemic however, homebodies have become more than just a descriptor for recluses; they have become an entire economy and they’re reshaping how rewards programmes work.

What is the homebody economy?

Thanks to various lockdown measures, people have found their houses increasingly becoming the focal point of their lives. Home is no longer just where the heart is; it’s where the office, shops, restaurants, and home entertainment happen too. As people’s lives have come to revolve more tightly around where they live, so have their spending habits.

At the tail end of last year, a popular local retail brand boasted a 32% increase in ‘loungewear’ sales, and attributed the surge to its customers wanting to be more comfortable working from home. Additionally, according to, at home DIY and home improvement projects are surging. All of these are effects of the homebody economy.

The more time people spend at home, the more their spending habits will begin to reflect that. If you are ‘living in your office’, you are going to want to make it as comfortable as possible. Grocery purchases through online portals and apps, for instance, have doubled from 2019 to 2021. This along with the increase in the use of online deliveries from restaurants has increased the demand for discount benefits for food and pre-cooked meals.

“Before the pandemic, many rewards programmes were geared towards helping you save money on travel, entertainment and health activities outside the home. Now, rewards have needed to pivot to align with people’s ‘homebody’ orientation,” explains Nathea Nicolay, Head: Product Development at Sanlam Rewards Centre of Excellence (CoE). The Sanlam Rewards CoE takes care of the new Wealth Bonus group-wide rewards programme as well as the Sanlam Reality programme. 

Lockdown trends

Trends from Sanlam Reality reveal people’s uptake of ‘rewards’ during the Covid-19 period:

  • High take-up of the new free Showmax movie-streaming benefit.
  • Moderate use of the free online education benefit that allows members and their children to access the SA CAPS curriculum, with 90% of Sanlam customers saying they will continue to use online education tools under the new normal.
  • Cyclical engagement with car rental benefits in line with Covid-19 waves. Tempest car rentals peaked at 90% of pre-pandemic levels by early December 2020, before dropping to 40% by February 2021. 
  • Uber ride hail benefits for airport and after-hours usage was higher than pre-pandemic levels in Q4 of 2020 but is currently at 50%. This is expected to normalise by December 2021.
  • Cinemas have been hard hit by lockdown, with the Nu Metro movie benefit currently at 25% of pre-pandemic levels. These may return to pre pandemic levels towards the end of 2022.

Your money is the real reward

The real reason many South Africans join rewards programmes is to help their money stretch a little bit further. That is especially true in our current economic conditions.

“People seem to be valuing rewards programmes more, with the percentage of customers who use rewards programmes increasing from 72% pre Covid-19 to 74% in 2021. During the pandemic, customers’ perception of rewards programmes changed, when they realised that extra savings could be unlocked,” says Nicolay.

Currently, South Africans spend around two thirds of their take home salaries on debt and yet are trying to save more. The Reserve Bank reports that the number of South Africans saving money has risen by 3.9% since last year. This suggests that as a nation we are struggling against the twin pressures of planning for the future and managing today’s problems.

“Many of us are trying to budget where we can, and rewards programmes are a good way to do that. The pandemic has changed the rewards landscape, but in a good way. Although traditional loyalty benefits were unavailable or not safe to use during deep lockdown periods, many members reverted to alternative loyalty benefits like cashbacks and discount vouchers to help them through difficult times,” adds Nicolay.

As a case in point, Nicolay says that the Wealth Bonus rewards programme was developed to put money back into the consumer’s pocket. With the Money Saver Credit Card, for example, members commit to adding 2.5% of everything they spend towards their Wealth Bonus. Then, as a reward for saving, Sanlam matches that 2.5%, increasing the member’s total Wealth Bonus to 5%. That Wealth Bonus then gets paid out annually or quarterly in the form of cash back. On top of that and other long-term cashback rewards, the programme guarantees every card holder R1 back for every litre of fuel purchased at Total. 

This allows ordinary South Africans to better straddle the line between credit and savings, which is especially important because, good credit management can empower you to live your life with financial confidence.

The problem of points

Now that the pandemic has made some point-earned perks less attractive, loyalty programme providers are needing to think on their feet. The traditional tier points system isn’t always as relevant, so innovators are introducing other offerings that operate irrespective of tier status. Sanlam’s Wealth Bonus, for example, is a cashback benefit all members can ‘unlock’ by sticking to their financial plan and paying their premiums on time.

Where to from here

Nicolay says, “For a start, do not get distracted by short-term vouchers and tier points. Have a long term financial plan and stick to it. If you place the safety of your assets and the financial security of your retirement and your family first, the financial service providers in South Africa will reward you automatically. Living your life with financial confidence and reaping a Wealth Bonus over the longer term when you stick to your plan is one of the best rewards you can give yourself.”