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High value airtime vouchers hard to sell in Kenya

By Xinhua | Aug 17th 2014 | 3 min read
By Xinhua | August 17th 2014

NAIROBI, KENYA: Shopkeeper Antony Musau does not remember the last time he sold a Sh250 airtime voucher in his shop in eastern Nairobi.

“I am not certain, but I think it is early last year. That was the last time I stocked the card because people do not buy it,” recounted Musau.

Even though he once stocked the Sh250 airtime vouchers, Musau has never sold the Sh500 and Sh1000 airtime vouchers in the four years he has been running the shop.

“Those are cards that I will never touch. No one will buy them. I do not want to tie my money in something that will not be bought,” said the trader who runs the shop in Komarock, a middle-income estate.

There are many traders like Musau, in suburbs across Nairobi, who have shunned the high value cards as consumers give them a wide berth.

“The most popular airtime vouchers are those for Sh20, Sh50 and Sh100. They fly off the shelves and you only bring the high value cards at your own peril,” noted Musau.

However, of the three, the Sh20 and Sh50 airtime vouchers are popular. The Sh100 airtime card, according to Musau, is popular among the older generation.

“I sell the Sh100 scratch cards on week days mainly during the evening when the older people who are employed return home. The cards also sell more during weekends when they are in the estate,” he said.

On the other hand, the Sh20 and Sh50 airtime vouchers are mainly bought by younger people. The buying habits have made shopkeeper Carlos Ngugi, as Musau, stock lower value denomination scratch cards. Their popularity has seen airtime sellers, including those in the city centre, shun the high value cards.

Analysts note that it is not unusual for Kenyans to shun the high value cards, as the same is happening with other goods.

“If you want to sell goods in Kenya, then you must pack them in small quantities. This is a lesson manufacturers know only too well, and that is the reason why they sell goods in smaller packages,” said Henry Wandera, a Nairobi-based economics lecturer.

He noted that things are not any different with airtime, which is not in the first category of basic needs.

“When you go to shops, especially in middle-income estates, many people, for instance, buy bread and milk first, then ask for airtime, not the other way round. It shows where airtime lies in order of importance and why people prefer the small value cards.”

Until recently, the low denomination scratch cards were popular in rural Kenya and among the urban poor due to low incomes.

“The cost of living is rising. When this happens, people budget for basic commodities first. Their levels of income or their social class do not matter, this happens naturally.”

While low-income earners may completely shun things like airtime, the middle-income earners try to budget for everything, explained Wandera.

“This is the reason Sh20 and Sh50 airtime vouchers are moving faster unlike before when many would go for Sh100 airtime. The airtime serves them well because there are many cheaper means of communicating among this group. Instead of calling, which is expensive, they will use social media and online- based free message apps like WhatsApp.”

Kenya’s rate of inflation currently stands at 7.39 percent, up from 6. 27 per cent in March, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The cost of housing, water, electricity, cooking gas and fuels has increased during the period.

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