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HomeExecutive BriefAre Nigerian consumers still kings or beggars without choice?

Are Nigerian consumers still kings or beggars without choice?

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By Oludare Mayowa

“The customer is always right.” Gordon Selfridge

The above quote often, in the past, provided guidance for consumer goods companies and their marketers. Many brands are conscious of the fact that if they, by any means, offend their customers, they may lose the market to their competitors.

Branding of products and content are determined by the tastes and needs of customers, while accessibility to the product forms part of the strategic decision by manufacturers and producers of goods and services.

Promasidor, the manufacturer of Cowbell, a diary product, was once lagging behind in the Nigerian market until they discovered a niche that catapulted them to the top of the mass market.

Against the traditional perception that sachet milk in both liquid and powder form is not attractive to consumers and may not resonate with buyers, Promasidor defied all prognoses with the launch of Cowbell Milk in sachets, and the instance of its acceptability by the market upturned the market perception.

Not too long thereafter, many consumers started dumping the most preferred Peak brand, produced by WEMCO, and embraced the new trend in town. For Promasidor, that was the breakthrough they needed to penetrate the market—understanding the needs of consumers.

Another of the innovative means utilised by manufacturers to penetrate the minds of consumers was the ‘Pure Water’ brand. The mass market, which drives a chunk of the bottomline for some consumer goods producers, was left unattended for many years until some smart entrepreneurs discovered the potential of sachet water and launched the product.

The convenience and portability of the product suited the immediate needs of consumers, especially the many commuters within the cities on the ever-congested Lagos Road, and the producers went home happy and equally smiling to their banks.

Apart from the immediate success of the sachet water brand, the product helped to drive down the prices of bottled water and eliminate the unhygienic water previously in circulation.

Today, many producers have embraced the culture of producing mini versions of their products in sachet format to enable them to reach the mass market and even reach those who were hitherto unable to patronise them because of the pricing challenge.

From cereal, milk, beverages, groundnut oil and even alcoholic drinks, producers have since embraced the sachet revolution, which has increased their visibility and accessibility, including bringing their products closer to the mass market.

The common denominator in innovation was the fact that companies were challenged to retain their market share through creativity and competitiveness.

Also, consumers’ interest became the larger interest of the entire market because dissatisfied customers have arrays of other products within the same genre to fall back on.

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The overall consumer interest also sustains quality in the market, as companies are also aware that a wrong move with their content and quality could drive their loyal customers into the embrace of their competition.

In those days, the true meaning of market mechanism was at play, as the customers were the real kings and could switch from one brand to another with a flick of a finger. Especially when they had the choice between two products of similar quality and content, price variables came into play in making their choices.

However, with the downturn in the global economy and the increased interplay of technology in the production of mass consumer goods, more brands invaded the market, driving down prices, and some hitherto market leaders receded to the background because of their inability to compete with some products in the market.

In our very eyes, quality of product took the back seat on the considerations of many producers; pricing became the major determinant of product competitiveness; and consumers who have been buffeted by the economic downturn are left with fewer choices to make.

The invasion of Nigeria and other parts of the world market by cheap products from Taiwan initially and then China lately further drove many manufacturers out of the market as a result of the ability of products from Asian countries to be two times cheaper than locally produced goods, increasing the stake in market competitiveness.

Given the choice of limited resources, consumers are forced to embrace the less-quality products, which they believed would serve their immediate needs, rather than go for the more-quality but expensive ones, which could serve them longer.

From that point in time, consumers began to lose their kingship; fake products dominated the market, and the choice was no longer for the consumers to make; price made the choice for them.

Dunlop and Michelin of this world, both tyre producers, have to close shop in Nigeria because they can no longer compete with products from China and other Asian countries, which offer the advantage of being cheaper but of lower quality and still somehow meet the needs of consumers.

Huge corruption in the public sector further compounded the consumers’ dilemma as the borders were opened to all kinds of goods. As long as the importers are willing to bribe the officials at the gateway to the country, those goods will be cleared for the Nigerian market, and consumers will lap them up due to the price advantage regardless of the quality.

Today, many Nigerians who were hitherto empowered are now jobless and powerless to make any choice while dwindling resources, forcing them to ironically cede their right of choice to the market price to make the choice of what to buy for them.

The state has lost its potency to protect the citizen due to the surging influence of corruption in the entire facet of the economy. The citizen’s health suffered due to the influx of fake drugs and consumables into the country.

Some importers usually claim that many consumers prefer the cheaper products to the quality ones as a result of economic factors.

No government institution is available to provide guidance and protection against harmful products being imported into the country daily, as those saddled with such responsibilities have compromised due to selfish interests overtaken by corruption.

Many Nigerians have died as a result of being forced to choose the available and affordable rather than the one that suits their taste and needs because of both the poverty of the mind and of the pocket.

In 1994 or thereabout, the late Samuel Ogbemudia, a retired general, was the chairman of the task force in charge of foreign exchange allocations during the regime of late dictator Sani Abacha and at the height of the dollar shortage in the country.

He told a personal story to some financial journalists who quarried the rationale behind government sectoral allocations of dollars rather than allowing the market to perform its function.

The man, who was a minister under the Abacha junta, was a victim of fake drugs, and he almost lost his life to the usage of fake drugs he bought on the recommendation of his physician to manage his high blood pressure, even when he had the resources to procure the medication from the so-called ‘reputable pharmacy.’

The government needs to wake up from its slumber and carry out major reforms in the critical sector of the economy to reduce the danger many Nigerians are being exposed to daily at the hands of merchants of death who import all kinds of goods into the country.

The government needs to help restore the dignity of Nigerians, who are left with no choice but to patronise substandard products and even outright fake ones because of economic reasons.

Local manufacturers should be incentivized to revive domestic production with strict regulations to ensure quality without sacrificing cost or affordability.

Apart from restoring the dignity of Nigerians in terms of choices of goods to buy, it will enhance the growth of the economy and boost employment in the country.

(Contact; omayowa@globalfinancialdigest.com; Newsroom: +234 8033 964 138)

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