Archive for the ‘Frugality’ Category

How to Spot Signals of Local Purchasing Patterns in the Market

np-md-mohamed-kanuThis photograph is taken from a regular news item from a Liberian newspaper announcing the opening of a new petrol station in the town of Ganta. What caught my attention is the size of the LPG cylinders being promoted. On the left is the 6kg and on the right is an even smaller size that I’ve yet to see elsewhere – the 6kg one has been spotted in the lower income side of Jakarta, and in the markets of Abidjan, and Nairobi.

What it tells me is that purchasing power in the local market is not only a little less than a major capital city, this is probably a tier 2 city, but also that its a cash intensive market where incomes are more likely to be the volatile cash flows from commercial activities in the informal sector.

The lumpsums available for LPG aren’t going to be as large as to afford the standard 13kg size, but it doesn’t preclude people from purchasing these smaller sizes more frequently. That is, we cannot assume total consumption volumes to be less than larger cities where larger sizes are more popular. On the other hand, the micro size on the right seems to hint at the possibility of LPG being more popular than traditional fuels such as kerosene, charcoal, or firewood.

These small sizes also signal a fragmented, informal market where small pack sizes and sachets are popular.

What marketing 101 can teach development practitioners and academics

The entire universe of people with an unmet need that you expect your solution to fulfill is not your target audience.

The fundamentals of market analysis include the basic calculations that allow marketing managers of all stripes to calculate (guesstimate) their potential market size, and thus a realistic assessment of its value. That is their marketing universe, within which they will set targets for the acquisition of customers. That potential customer base is the targetted audience for their marketing efforts, in order to get them onto the customer journey ladder to “loyal advocates” your brand or service.

This simple yet powerful understanding is known even to Ghana’s market queens, the ladies who trade. They don’t imagine that they can serve the 100 million people without tomatoes that day. Yet these are the kinds of grand targets that development, and its little cousin once removed, social enterprises announce day in and day out in press releases.

I was lucky. Yepeka Yeebo reached out to me before a trip to Accra, where she had been commissioned to write a profile of such an entrepreneur.She has permitted me to use her photographs and to write this story of Auntie Matilda, the tomato trader of Accra, Ghana.

Yeebo_Market_01The market mummies, the market queens – the informal retail sector across most of West Africa is dominated by women. Women inherit their mother’s social and commercial networks, the goodwill of her mother’s trading relationships and thus, her social capital and repute. As Yeppi writes, there was a time when the intricate webs of economic power wielded by these ladies took the full might of the Ghanaian army to dismantle.

Gerry van Dyke has studied the customer experience design strategies the ladies use to distinguish themselves, though selling the exact same unbranded commidity. Even Unilever comes to learn at their feet, and Maggi Cubes know they can’t win if the mummies are unhappy at the margins for breaking bulk of one of those long boxes we all have at home.

Yeebo_Market_08

Break bulk is visible across the developing world’s informal economies. Just like the prepaid business model, the irregular income streams of the vast majority of the informal sector, even those who would the upper middle class of their milieu, mean that wherever one can negotiate some flexibility of time and money, their business is assured. It is a mark of trust to be able to agree to accept a payment over time.

This extends then to the way the products are sold. There is no concept of discounting for bulk purchase, simply because you’re unlikely to sink  your daily working capital into a huge bag of toilet paper. Liquidity is the real king, cash is only the manifestation in the real world. Flexibility is one of the ways to mitigate the risk of uncertainty that small business owners face daily.

Auntie Matilda’s business choices, marketing and customer development strategies, and the health of her cash flow, all depend upon her ability to build a network of working relationships predicated on trust, references, and thus, proof of performance. One wonders if the only reason she might not be formal is that there isn’t any particular segment or category in the current forms of registered businesses that apply to her kind of business.

Its time we overturned the ivory tower’s disdain of filthy lucre and trade in the city center and gave these ladies their due.

Innovation, under conditions of resource scarcity

When Mkulima Young, a social media community for young farmers in Kenya tweeted this photograph of a motorcycle modified to pump water, I was delighted. It had been a long time since I’d seen such an excellent example of innovative product development under conditions of resource scarcity.

REculture, the group blog hosted by the now defunct Posterous is gone, though Makeshift magazine still keeps the spirit alive. Afrigadget rarely updates these days, and I, too, have moved on in my interests in the past 5 years since Mikko and I first went to Nairobi for Maker Faire and research.

 

The end of the global middle class: A more frugal world?

The past half decade‘s worth of financial crises and increasing scarcity of resources have led to an increasing equalization in the global water level. Instead of the high tide that would lift all boats, the leveling off of growth is leading to an entirely different equation of purchasing power parity. Tomorrow’s equilibrium seems to imply a more frugal world. ~ Niti Bhan, 2012

I wrote this concluding paragraph just over 3 years ago. Today, I look at research from Pew that informs me the great American middle class has declined by half. An article on the Indian middle class claims they’re actually the world’s poor. And the mythical African middle class emerges, floats and sinks, sometimes all at once in the same article.

Water has found its level, and its barely staying afloat.

If indeed the global demographics are changing such that what was formerly considered the “middle class” by the metrics of the day do not apply anymore, would it not make more sense to rebase and then assess who is in the middle than to go chasing the golden children of the boom years long past?

Or, one could just stop looking for these unicorns everywhere and take the trouble to study the people who are the majority in these markets.

Either way, what was is over and what’s emerging is more frugal world with thinner wallets, fewer bank accounts and propensity to pinch their pennies. The data demonstrates it clearly enough.

Global consumer data shows demographics have changed completely

The past half decade‘s worth of financial crises and increasing scarcity of resources have led to an increasing equalization in the global water level. Instead of the high tide that would lift all boats, the leveling off of growth is leading to an entirely different equation of purchasing power parity. Tomorrow’s equilibrium seems to imply a more frugal world. ~ Niti Bhan, 2012

I wrote this concluding paragraph just over 3 years ago. Today, I look at research from Pew that informs me the great American middle class has declined by half. An article on the Indian middle class claims they’re actually the world’s poor. And the mythical African middle class emerges, floats and sinks, sometimes all at once in the same article.

Water has found its level, and its barely staying afloat.

If indeed the global demographics are changing such that what was formerly considered the “middle class” by the metrics of the day do not apply anymore, would it not make more sense to rebase and then assess who is in the middle than to go chasing the golden children of the boom years long past?

Or, one could just stop looking for these unicorns everywhere and take the trouble to study the people who are the majority in these markets.

Either way, what was is over and what’s emerging is more frugal world with thinner wallets, fewer bank accounts and propensity to pinch their pennies. The data demonstrates it clearly enough.

Also published as The end of the global middle class: Frugality awaits us

Is there a tipping point price for low income customer behavioural change?

lpg

Nairobi, Kenya Photo Credit: Niti Bhan

When the price of the LPG cylinders dropped significantly earlier this year, it was noticed that increasing numbers of urban lower income customers were purchasing the entry level size of 6kg – seen displayed along the top of the display unit above.

“A good number of my customers come from the slum,” said Kinuthia on Saturday. They are using cooking gas, but mainly the 6kg, which is why over 90 percent of what I am selling is the small cylinders.”

Kinuthia is among the cooking gas dealers in various suburbs in Nairobi who are experiencing booming business as demand for the commodity grows.

The trader noted that the slum residents started using cooking gas as the cost dropped following decline in fuel prices. Consumption of the clean energy in the East African nation is currently at a three-year high.

Previously, I’d written about the consumer decision making regarding choice of cooking fuel, driven as it was by cash flow and payment flexibility. That was based on household energy consumption behaviour, a study conducted in rural and peri-urban Kenya a couple of years ago. Along with the pricing, the choice of cooking fuel was also influenced by the household’s location – peri-urban (town) dwellers were required by landlords to forgo firewood and use only charcoal and kerosene, while those who lived on their homesteads tended to use firewood, and charcoal. These two choices are based on the relative time it took for each fuel to cook i.e. kerosene stoves are ready to use much faster than charcoal, and a charcoal stove is in turn faster than an open wood hearth.

Here, however, we’re seeing evidence of the aspirational leap (the brass ring syndrome) made by the lower income urban consumer as well as indication that some critical price barrier seems to have been breached for the entry level LPG cylinder. Cooks who would have used kerosene in the urban slums were shifting over to cleaner, safer LPG as soon as it became affordable, even in with the lumpsum required for the purchase. This is what makes me wonder if there’s some magic price point for sales to take off, and if so, is it a value processing based on the product category or a cash amount that is the trigger.

Based on all the prior work in this space, I’d hazard a guess that its very much the product itself, its status as a signifier of upward mobility, its value proposition and benefits, that work together to make it one of those things that are reached for when the price lowers enough to look accessible. I’ll keep an eye on what other products or services fall into this category but I’m doubtful that there’s any formulaic success model that just any old product aiming at the base of the pyramid could follow.

Leapfrogging the cookstove

corner

Abidjan’s Treichville Market, Cote D’Ivoire 13 Oct 2015

Take a closer look at those LPG (cooking gas) cylinders stacked around the pole, displayed for sale. The small ones on top have a rough and ready metal fitting attached to them which converts them into stoves.

IMG_3068However, you’ll  note in the delivery cart that these small cylinders are without the addition. This makes me wonder if its a value add by the shopkeeper?

IMG_3076It seems as though even this range of LPG table top stoves might be too expensive for some, or is it a solution meant for street vendors of food? The fact that these are being displayed on the smallest (and thus most affordable) size of cylinder is another hint that its an entry level solution.

A closer look implies that this might be a cookstove designed to fit on top of the cylinder and locally handmade by artisans rather than mass manufactured ranges shown above.

IMG_3084Either way, it caught my attention as I’d never seen this directly fitted approach to cooking with LPG before.

Introducing The Global Prepaid Economy

This week, that venerable newspaper The Financial Times, published an original piece of writing on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda blog. Its not a reprint from their own publication. It proposes the end of “Emerging Markets” (EM) as we know them:

Now, commentators say, it is the world’s mental map that is in dire need of an overhaul, particularly when it comes to the practice of categorising countries as “emerging” or “developed” markets.

The current economic hierarchy, which places emerging nations at the periphery and developed markets at the core of world affairs, no longer accurately describes a world in which EM countries contribute a bigger share to global gross domestic product than their developed counterparts, when measured by purchasing power parity. Nor does the capacious category, which lumps together countries of such diverse economic strengths as China and the Czech Republic, serve to illuminate crucially different realities between these nations.

“The EM term has outgrown its usefulness,” says Michael Power, strategist at Investec, a fund management company. “The term today embraces big and small, developed and under-developed, industrialised and agrarian, manufacturing and commodity-based, rich and poor, deficit runners and surplus runners, and I could go on,” he adds. At issue are not merely the niceties of symmetry and order.

As someone who has been looking at emerging markets, one way or another, for the past 10 years, both in my writing as well as in my work, this comes as a welcome relief. These markets can’t still be emerging, I thought, when I was in New Delhi at the beginning of June this year.

Yet, in some ways, we need the conceptual means to capture their dynamic potential, as they’re still in motion. As the article concludes:

These contradictions threaten to consign the term emerging markets to the dustbin. But if it follows the likes of “third world” into virtual extinction, its passage will raise the question of what, if anything, should replace it.

prepaid-globalgsma-2011-2013

The Global Prepaid Economy. (Data: GSMA Intelligence)

In November 1996, Vodacom South Africa was the first network in the world to introduce prepaid airtime on an Intelligent Network platform, which made it possible to debit customers’ accounts while they were speaking. Two years later, they went on to win the Global Mobile Award for the “Best GSM Service” for the VodaGo prepay system. Less than twenty years later, prepaid airtime is the dominant business model across the entire planet.

And, interestingly, if you look at the map above, the economies where the prepaid business model dominates are more or less those which were formerly known as emerging markets, frontier markets, developing countries and/or the majority of the erstwhile third world.

2014 prepaid data gsmaAcross emerging markets and developing countries, the preference for prepaid mobile services cuts across income range, socio-economic class or type of employment. Choosing to pay as you use seems to have little or nothing to do with regular paychecks, bank accounts, credit cards or age.  So vast is it that one can consider it an economic characteristic in its own right.

The global Prepaid Economy.

What do all the regions where the prepaid business model dominates have in common?

  • Cash intensive
  • Informal sector employs more than the formal
  • Still developing
  • More volatile
  • Higher uncertainty
  • Less social safety nets
  • Faster growth

What does the prepaid business model do for the customer?

It empowers them. Control over how much to spend (the amount), and its timing (the frequency and periodicity of purchases) is in the hands of the end user, the mobile subscriber. There’s no bill at the end of the month, to be paid by a deadline, for an as yet unknown amount. That is, there are no surprises.

Why does this matter?

In cash intensive operating environments, where expenses must be managed within the constraints of cash available on hand, the prepaid model offers manageable access to voice, text and data. Where the informal sector might be the source of employment for a greater majority of the population, uncertainty is a defining characteristic as incomes may be irregular, unpredictable and/or seasonal. That is, there is a greater degree of volatility to be managed. And, where there are fewer social safety nets to rely on, surprises in the form of a bill at the end of the month might make the difference between going hungry to bed or putting meat on the table.

In this series of articles, I’ll be taking a look at the nature of the prepaid economy and characteristics common across many geographies. Next part will look at the relationship between Time and Money.

Breaking bulk and profiting at the margins

IMG_20150709_200555

Photo Credit: Michael Kimani

Michael sent me this information from Nairobi last week. He’d spotted informal retail within the context of a mini-supermarket – known as traditional trade in the jargon of consumer product distribution and retail. He adds,

“So 500 ml of Rina cooking oil retails for 120KES, 1 litre for 195 KES. What the owner of this store found out is buying a 20 litre (which she retails for 2700 KES) and repackaging it into 1 litre  plastic bags in red basket), is more profitable according to attendant doing this – Each bag retails for 135 KES”

Quick math informs us that she’s not giving her customers an out – the retail price for the 20 litre jerry can works out to 135 KES per litre. On the other hand, purchasing an informally packaged plastic bag over the formal product packaging offers you savings of 60 KES and helps stretch the grocery budget a little more.

A search online shows me an e-tail website whose prices for Rina are even higher – 500 ml at 121 KES, 1 litre at 214 KES and the 20 litre at 3,300 KES.

This behaviour isn’t just seen in Kenya or the African continent – I’ve documented it in The Philippines, and in rural India.  Its the natural outcome of the purchasing patterns influenced by cash transactions and irregular incomes – of the retailer as well as their customers.

Without contextual knowledge of the operating environment of the vast majority of trade and services in the informal sector, implicit assumptions left unquestioned pose their own barriers to sustainable growth.

For Mama Biashara, it’s these margins that provide a little wriggle room for profit, while offering some added value to her customers.

Meeting the challenge of consumer demand

DSC09056

Karantina Market, Kenya {photo credit: Niti Bhan}

Understanding consumer demand is an inherent part of the informal trader’s expertise. In the cash economy, unsold inventory is sunk cost. The balance between risk and return is a constant juggling, interwoven with the need for incoming cash flow to meet outgoing expenses.

This tabletop – informal retail – caught my attention for its unexpected juxtaposition of products for sale. Day old chicks which you would purchase to raise for eggs or meat and toilet paper. Mama had X amount of surplus cash available to invest in inventory, and one guesses that she’s not a regular market woman or trader so much as someone who saw an opportunity one market day to make some extra cash.

Neither product is a risk, yet in a sense they are both discretionary purchases the customers milling around the market might make if they had some surplus cash of their own. This is an example of opportunity in the margins, for both buyer and seller.

What observations can you add to this?