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Global tastes: Why savvy shoppers are changing the traditional store

By Graham Kajilwa | November 23rd 2021
By Graham Kajilwa | November 23rd 2021
Customers selecting Mitumba Clothes at Think Twice second-hand clothes shop in Nakuru town. [File, Standard]

It is not just the infectious rhythm and sarcasm in the song ‘Thrift Shop’ by American rapper Macklemore and his producer Ryan Lewis that make the 2012 melody feel fresh.

It is the reality of consumerism displayed in the song that now has over 1.6 billion views on YouTube.

The song, in a subtle way, depicts the behaviour of an average shopper who wants to spend less, $20 according to the chorus, but somehow still get top services or products.

It is the reality that Kenyan businesses have been facing for some time as more people in the working population join the middle class and the internet exposes them to the finer things in life. While their pockets might not be as deep, their knowledge and thirst for the good life is inverse.  

This has put many businesses in a dilemma on how to win not necessarily new customers, but the same with improved taste buds.

As such, a lot of remodelling has been going on in some of industries; among them second-hand clothes, commonly known as mitumba.

Gone are the open-air market days when you had to fight for the cream of the bale, clothes that are almost new and referred to as ‘camera’, under the hot scorching sun with your face trapped under other people’s armpits. A not so pleasing experience, yet worth it at the time.

Today, you can get your order of mitumba delivered to your doorstep, or even try the clothes on before buying in a store with changing rooms - courtesy of what we now know as thrift shops littering both online and physical streets in urban centres.

Think Twice and Budget Wear are some of the notable brands of these thrift shops.

The shops might not be as noisy as the open-air market but still borrow a thing or two from there, and customers have mastered it as well. For example, the day new bales are opened, usually Saturday mornings, you will find queues of people waiting for the shops to open as early as 6:30am.

Prices are usually standard for anything you lay your hands on, and fall as the store is left with less new and attractive items.

There is always someone ringing a bell or shouting how cheap the items are as they call on people to check them out, just like in an open-air market.

And if you are tired of the public transport sector known for its matatu madness where touts fight for and with passengers, and drivers have no regard for bumps and potholes, you now have the option of using Swvl, a ride-hailing company providing commuter services not just within the city but also long distance.

Apart from mitumbas and public transport, the retail sector has also seen some change where mini marts are emerging in residential estates and urban centres. The only difference between the mini mart and the ordinary shops you are used to is the supermarket experience it offers.

Professional Marketing Services Group Chief Executive Joanne Mwangi says the reason why traditional businesses are branding in a more sophisticated way is that the consumer has also changed.

“The consumer is dynamic and thus the product offering must match their aspirations and the emerging trends,” she says.

“The phenomenal rise in tech adoption means that it is mandatory that one takes their product or service into the domain or risk quick death.”

Ms Mwangi says the change in business structure is not necessarily in alignment with the consumption behaviour of the growing middle class, noting that businesses straddle social classes.

“The middle class may be the largest block but it is mass market products that take the day,” she says.

Viola Dola, who runs online clothing store thriftwithdola, agrees that the market has moved from when people would go to cherry-pick clothes in the open-air market to shopping in stores.

“There are those (customers) who will be like ‘you sell these things expensively yet I can get it a cheaper price’, but there are others who value the product you have since you have done some sale service like washing, ironing and presenting,” she says, “so they will appreciate the work you have done and be like ‘this is something better than going to the market’,” she says.

Ms Dola says shops are convenient because sometimes people are busy with family or their own businesses.

University of Nairobi economics lecturer Samuel Nyandemo says the business environment has become complex and competitive.

This is has led to diversification of services and products offered to customers.

“In this case, most of the small-scale businesses have resorted to diversification,” says Dr Nyandemo.

He says there is a co-relation between diversification and the way the middle class spends its money.

“But you know for survival in such kind of a competitive environment, you must try to be unique in your product or service and that leads to some slight modification and diversification,” says Nyandemo.  

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