There are a variety of sources of information that you can turn to when conducting desk research. Some of the main published sources of information for the desk researcher are outlined below:

Trade statistics, government regulations, etc.

Trade statistics, which reflect a particular country’s imports and exports (according to quantities traded, monetary values, sources of supply, etc.) can help a company to identify it main competitors. It should be noted, however, that official trade statistics are often not sufficiently detailed for the researcher to assess the precise import structure of the market in question. Often even the most recently published set of statistics might be a number of years out of date. For developing countries, economic development plans can give an indication of the direction of, say, the agricultural and mining industries, etc.

Multi-client reports published by research organisations

In addition to conducting research for their clients, many market research organisations publish multi-client market reports and industrial surveys which could be of use to the market researcher.

Foreign embassies and trade offices located in South Africa

Foreign embassies and/or trade offices located in South Africa can sometimes provide a great deal of information about their countries, including trade statistics, tariff and customs regulations, lists of importers, retailers and manufacturers abroad. For a list of embassies, consulates and/or trade offices located in South Africa, click here. (Bear in mind that these organisations are not keen to promote South Africa exports to their home country – they are more focused on promoting their exports in South Africa. For this reason you should be very “diplomatic” when approaching these offices for assistance.)

Publishing houses

Local and international publishing houses produce several publications which can be valuable to the market researcher, such as product catalogues, directories, commodity reviews, industry studies, etc. Market researchers should, where possible, request that they be put on relevant mailing lists so that they will receive, say, catalogues and announcements of new publications as and when they become available.
Besides supplying information about the markets that they serve, publishers often conduct or sponsor research into these markets, sometimes making the research findings available to advertisers and other parties on request. This includes the Economist Intelligence Unit publishes market surveys which are used extensively by market researchers.

Market research agencies

Research agencies vary widely in terms of the type of research they undertake and the kind of skills they can offer. Some agencies specialise in doing research within certain industries, such as food, engineering or tourism. Others specialise in particular types of research, such as motivational research or test marketing. Another fundamental difference between agencies is that some specialise in consumer research and others in industrial (i.e. business to business) research. It is rare for an agency to be equally skilled in all of these areas. More information can be found here

International organisations’ research reports, statistics and other publications

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) publish various reports on financial and economic developments in different countries, as well as international foreign exchange regulations and other barriers to trade, etc. Many of these reports are now available on the Internet. These organisations also maintain extensive statistical databases that can be accessed over the Internet.

Commercial directories and reviews

All the publications specified above are available from organisations and associations which may also provide supplementary information, based on their own experience and records, etc.

Chambers of commerce and industry

The function of these chambers is primarily to promote the interests of their members (generally business enterprises). However, they often provide information that is useful to the market researcher, such as membership lists and details about local business conditions and trade regulations in the markets that they serve.
Bi-national chambers of commerce are frequently set up to promote trade between two specific countries. If a substantial amount of fairly diversified trade takes place between South Africa and the country being researched, there is a strong possibility that the relevant bi-national chamber operates in South Africa. For a full list of the chambers of commerce and bi-national chambers operating in South Africa, click here.
Bi-national chambers are able to provide the researcher with general information on trading conditions between the two countries concerned, often with names of possible contacts in the foreign market.


Banks can be a valuable source of market information. A South African bank will generally have a working relationship with foreign correspondent banks and can offer:
Regular or ad hoc market reports on various countries covering economic trends and policies, industrial and trade developments, etc.
Reports on the commercial standing and creditworthiness of individual foreign companies
Information on the credit terms, methods of payment and foreign exchange rates applicable to trade with countries outside South Africa
Several large international banks, such as Barclays, Lloyds and Chase Manhattan, publish periodicals which include national economic surveys, commodity reviews, etc.

Consumer Organisations

In most industrialised countries, there are organisations whose purpose is to protect consumer interests. Many of these organisations test products sold in their respective countries and report on their findings in their journals. They may also report on retail prices and conduct consumer surveys.

Newspapers and journals

A great deal of international economic, marketing and commodity news is published by major world newspapers, notably the Financial Times of London, as well as trade and industry journals, such as the Mining Journal. Many other business and economic magazines, e.g. the Middle East Economic Digest are good sources of information on the economic and political activities of the countries they cover. Many of the better journals and newspapers publish their information on the Internet.

South African economic offices located in foreign markets

Economic representatives stationed abroad regularly undertake market research on behalf of South African exporters and often compile special market reports in respect of particular products. To obtain a full list of foreign-based South African economic offices, click here.

Trade associations

Trade associations represent the interests of companies in specific industries or trades, such as chemical manufacturers, import houses, etc., and they can be valuable sources of information about the companies active in their respective fields. Many trade associations offer their members regular trade statistics on their industries. This data, along with the association’s membership list, is sometimes available to non-members.
Trade associations in South Africa include the Transvaal Coal Producers Association, the Ferro-alloy Producers Association, the South African Rolled Steel Co-ordinating Committee, etc. Similar associations operate in other countries. A comprehensive list of associations is available at Association Finder.

Local companies

The researcher should not overlook the possibility of obtaining information about different markets from other companies in South Africa. Direct competitors are unlikely to be very helpful but other companies, e.g. manufacturers of complementary products, may be willing to share their knowledge and experience. Exporters’ Clubs are found in most large cities and are an ideal forum to exchange views and ideas.


Most libraries supply basic economic information about foreign markets and specialised foreign trade libraries (such as the one at the Trade Point in Pretoria) offer more specific information about particular products, the activities of buying organisations, etc.

The Internet

The Internet, if used correctly, can provide useful information. Information is not vetted however, and sources are not reliable. Nevertheless, with the necessary caveats, the Internet can be a gold mine. For more information about the Internet, click here.

Other sources

If a company has been exporting for some time, the market researcher might be able to extract useful information from company files and records. For example, sales records sales performance could be compared with sales targets and marketing expenditures in the markets concerned. Such comparisons can help to reveal possible shortcomings in the marketing effort.

Copies of correspondence received from foreign agents should also be made available to the market researcher so that (s)he can identify any information which might affect the marketing programme, e.g. regular complaints about late delivery, defective products, etc. In addition, if not already in the habit of doing so, agents should be encouraged to report at regular (say, three to six monthly) intervals on:

  • Any recent political changes in the foreign market, and their possible effect on the company’s marketing drive
  • Any new or impending legislation likely to affect marketing activities abroad
  • Changes in consumption patterns
  • The activities of competitors, such as the introduction of new products, price changes, changes in advertising expenditure, etc.

Another potentially useful source of information for the market researcher is reports written by members of the company’s export sales team after they return from trips abroad. These reports might include accounts of meetings held with customers or other business associates and an assessment of future prospects in the market(s) visited.

Finally, an analysis of letters to the company from customers might reveal the need for certain procedures to be changed, or might suggest ideas for new products or marketing techniques to be introduced.

Information can also be accessed via international databases. These databases are created by companies which collate and store information in organised electronic systems for access via mainframe or PC (together with a telephone modem) by subscribers. Sabinet Online, located in Pretoria, is one example of a company offering access to a number of these databases.

Additional links
Find service providers to help you import / export in you selected target country

International Business Research Tutorial
Ten Steps to International Business Intelligence from the University of Florida.