The Psyche of the Jamaican Consumer: The Struggle to Start a Business in Jamaica

Bob Marley. Usain Bolt. Miss Lou. These are some Jamaicans who have been trailblazers in putting our little island on the map. Wi likkle but wi tallawah! A whoa! Jamaicans shine wherever we go (our light is mostly positive…dem scamma boi deh doh). In fact, our slang and mannerisms have made it into international mainstream television, especially in America. Our food has even graced the palettes of some of the leading chefs globally. People worldwide have become consumers of the Jamaican brand. 

The sad reality is, however, that those who start a business in Jamaica tend to suffer because we aren’t consumers of our own brand. We’re proud when we see our culture being praised, adapted or reinvented. Why can’t we replicate that pride by supporting local brands? I’m a proud Jamaican. However, I’ve noticed that we have a certain conditioned psyche when it comes to products produced in Jamaica by Jamaicans versus those that are produced internationally. This article presents my observations. Let me know if you agree by leaving a comment below!

Start a Business in Jamaica with Caution! Jamaicans are Born Complainers

Jamaicans fail to recognize the goldmine they have in their hands. Maybe the people are to be blamed, maybe the government. Nonetheless, it’s time to stop playing the blame game. The burden of the misrepresentation of our brand by foreign businesses and the higher prices for local products rests on our shoulders. Our focus should be on supporting small businesses in Jamaica so that our economy can grow and our products can be adequately represented on the international stage.

We have to realize, at some point, that the power lies within us. We can’t continue to overvalue the outside world when they’re profiting from what we do. Jamaica needs people with creative and innovative minds who’re willing to stay and build the country. We aren’t short on these people, but the psyche of Jamaican consumers makes it difficult to start a business in Jamaica. We’re struggling to keep what we’ve got.

Product Choice is Key to Starting a  Business in Jamaica

The Jamaican consumer is conditioned to neglect or reject the authentic goods or services that exist right under our noses. We tend to value foreign goods solely because they are ‘’foreign’’. We’ll pay twice as much for something that is not produced in Jamaica just because it’s ‘’foreign’’. We’ll pay shipping and handling just because it’s “foreign”.  We distrust the capabilities of our fellow Jamaicans so much that an entrepreneur from another country can come to Jamaica, set up shop, sell our products, and make a good profit. We buy from foreign companies instead of our own people who may have been selling the same goods or services here for years.

Cost tends to be a deterrent when considering purchasing local products. It is something that you should pay attention to if you want to start a small business in Jamaica.  However, local small businesses have to grapple with several business costs including the cost of an unreceptive Jamaican market. It can be argued that anyone who wants to start a small business in Jamaica should do thorough market research to ensure that products are appealing and are sold at the right price. 

However, this may mean producing products in large quantities; a risky endeavor since the probability of no support is great.  Products produced in small quantities will cost more per unit than those produced in large quantities. Is it surprising that local goods tend to cost more than overseas products? Nonetheless, the flip side to this is that once your product is of high quality, and is marketed properly, Jamaicans will support it. For example, consider Brigette’s Sandals. This brand has established itself as a rather sophisticated and prestigious commodity. Women who purchase these leather sandals are proud of their purchases because the sandals represent a certain status of women in Jamaican society. Therefore, the company constantly receives support from consumers at both ends of the market despite the high price. 

Is There Sufficient Government Support to Start a Business in Jamaica?

This problem may even be deeper rooted than we thought. Multimillion-dollar factories and companies that were once based in Jamaica have moved overseas because they have found better workers, better infrastructure and better cost-cutting measures in other countries. Commonwealth Network Jamaica reports that Jamaica’s manufacturing sector is now dominated by agro-processing and light manufacturing with the sector declining by 2 percent in 2010. JAMPRO further reports that the manufacturing sector presently contributes between 8 and 9 percent of GDP.  This is starkly different from the vibrant manufacturing sector we had in the 1980s, albeit one based on a controversial Freezone arrangement that exploited locals. That’s a story for another day. 

The manufacturing sector is an example of a sector that has the potential to do so much more for Jamaican small businesses through increased public and private sector support. Nonetheless, the government has tried to motivate budding entrepreneurs through its policies for small business start-ups. Nigel Clarke, our Minister of Finance, introduced a new tax system in 2019 that reduces the heavy burden of taxation on small businesses. You can learn more about how these tax incentives benefit small business owners in Jamaica in The Business Playbook. Click here to learn more. 

Think Globally if You Want to Start a Business in Jamaica

Xaymaca Coffee Company is an example of how a strong business partnership between local and overseas business can benefit a small business in Jamaica. Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee is touted as one of the best coffees in the world. Xaymaca Coffee distributes Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee in the US on behalf of Coffee Traders Ltd, a local coffee producer. Xaymaca continuously invests in Coffee Trader Ltd and ensures that the company always has the best coffee bean processing equipment so that high-quality coffee is consistently produced. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Xaymaca Coffee Company has become the 2nd largest importer of Jamaican coffee after their entrance into the market in 2009. 

This example highlights that we should think globally if we want to start a business in Jamaica. Nothing is wrong with starting small; there are several small businesses in Jamaica that sell to overseas clients using social media, Shopify, Etsy, and other e-commerce platforms. Think about the business potential 5 to 10 years into the future. What is the ultimate goal? 

Do You Want to Learn How to Start a Business in Jamaica Despite the Psyche of Our People?

This article wasn’t written to solve all the problems that exist within our society.  Instead, it was written to highlight how the psyche of the Jamaican consumer affects the growth of Jamaica’s small business sector. How our people think is something you should consider before taking the plunge to start a business in Jamaica.  Our thinking towards brand Jamaica needs to change so that others can stop benefitting from misrepresenting our brand. Small businesses in Jamaica should also think globally if they want to thrive; depending on the Jamaican consumer is insufficient. 

The Success Lifestyle Magazine team has created a comprehensive guide for starting a business in Jamaica. You need a copy of this book if you’re serious about creating a successful business in Jamaica that can stand the test of time. Click here to learn more. 

2 thoughts on “The Psyche of the Jamaican Consumer: The Struggle to Start a Business in Jamaica

Add yours

  1. So many truth to your writing. I think it is expensive to start a business so selling products can be a bit expensive while foreign items are done on a larger scale because of access to better machinery so their out put can be greater. They sell cheaper and quicker but we have to learn to win loyal customers. If you are a seller think of yourself as a buyer, a bit of lose to gain thing. Many barriers need to be broken down especially doubt and procrastination.


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