Shredded cabbage for sale, Wote, Kenya 3rd February 2012
Convenience can mean different things to the household consumer, depending on their location. In urban Chicago, its stocking up the freezer and pantry with a trip to a megastore like Costco while in Singapore it might be the ubiquitous neighbourhood hawker stand where rice, meat, two veg can be had for as little as $2.50 per person. Here in the mostly rural, arid Makueni district of Kenya where the concept of leftovers is moot and only bars and restaurants tend to have a refrigerator, convenience means stopping by the cabbage lady for just enough for tonight’s meal.
Kerosene sales, Wote, Kenya 4th Feb 2012
Purchasing patterns observed previously among those on irregular income streams have been clustered into four major categories:
1. Prepaid or pay as you go
2. Bulk purchases of non perishables
3. Sachetization or as its called here in Kenya, kadogo
4. On demand, for immediate use
The shredded cabbage, being sold by weight or “amount” (half a cabbage or quarter) is a clear example of the last pattern and common across the world while the way kerosene is being sold could be said to be closer to a ‘sachet’ or small purchase as it tends not to be a daily or on demand purchase.
Interestingly, here I saw bulk purchasing for firewood or charcoal rather than foodgrains since most families have some land where they grow maize. The maize is first and foremost for household use and only the surplus is sold.
So why have I called this ‘convenience as a service’?
There is a premium one is paying for the convenience – whether its the shredding being done for you or the difference in price of kerosene between the town and the village. Someone has saved you the time and effort thus it costs money. There’s an entire economy around water and its supply chain that I’ll be taking a closer look in a forthcoming post.
This insight emerged from a conversation we had yesterday with Jane Mbithe, who manages EasySurf cyber at the Yaya Centre. Reflecting on patterns of behaviour among her high net worth customers who often already possessed the latest laptops and broadband modems, she said it boiled down to the elements of time and money with respect to certain tasks at hand.
The broadband modem is fine for regular browsing (within reason, as I’m discovering, having recently ‘spent’ 35 MB just to find one news article in a regular Google search – majority of websites are far too big and heavy for no discernible reason) but when the time came to download a large document received in email or some other such data heavy activity, the trade off made between cost of 15 minutes at the Ksh 3/min high speed cyber’s facilities to complete this task versus taking far longer (consuming both available data and thus, airtime) using the slower modem or other connection was a no brainer.
I found it fascinating to note this pattern of using the more expensive source that was faster for certain activities being reflected in online activities as I’ve seen this ‘cost/benefit analysis’ manifested around the developing world in kitchens where the choice of cooking fuel is based on the intended task as well. (more expensive LPG to quickly fry an egg versus cheaper charcoal to cook beans slowly). The underlying factor is the motivation to maximize the return on investment in a prepaid source of [what may be required] – whether its electricity in The Philippines or South Africa (where rural stores stock LPG powered refrigerators) or the ubiquitous airtime minutes available on every mobile phone.
In this context, the high speed cyber cafe, though expensive, is analogous to the more expensive but faster LPG versus the slower, cheaper broadband modem (charcoal equivalent).
This observation implies that the purchasing patterns and decision making behaviours already identified have influence regardless of the level of technology or advanced ‘modern’ nature of the purchase, and thus, purchasing power.