The Shifting Landscape of Mobile Phones Retail in Kenya

africa phone shipments down q1 2019

smartphone retail business Kenya7 years ago branding and retail visibility things used to be simple. The open market (as they fondly call it) consisted of single person enterprise or mom and pop shops. There were lines of shops in Luthuli Avenue in Nairobi and a few along Kenyatta or Moi Avenue. For a common man, the branding simply meant a wall sticker or painting, a signage in front of the shop or a shelf strip. The visibility consisted of simple merchandise or danglers or posters or roll up banners.

The battle-ground was defined clearly because there was a number 1 and 3 to 4 competitors working to clinch that No.1 title. The branding and visibility was achieved using the best relationship with the shop owners. The shops were clean and nicely laid out giving ample choice and space for consumers to decide on a purchase. The open market provided the best pricing compared to organized retail and operator shops.

Fast forward to 2016 – 2017. You walk into a small shop, you see an array of experience tables from a myriad of brands, at least 10 tables stacked into the shop and 10 brand sales people standing next to them. The buyer walks in and finds themselves intimidated by the sales people each pulling the buyer to their side of the table. There is hardly a free space for a buyer to walk around or shop around. I am not sure whether window shopping is even allowed nowadays in the shops.

The brands and their branding are all over the shop, shop after shop, street after street. Business is brisk and the competition is higher. The competition has grown from 3 to 5 brands to 30 or 35 brands. Today, the brands are focusing on conversion of a walk-in-customer to a buyer. Talking to a few brands and shop keepers, I hear the margins are small thus reminding me of the days of competition in the laptop market.

Interesting enough many of these brands are little known outside these shops and streets. These new brands focus on conversion inside the shops and focus their marketing investment in the retail shops. Out there in the open, only a few big brands are still spending their marketing money on billboards, newspapers, radio or Television commercials. This makes me wonder whether the big brands will reduce their spending for above the line advertising or continue their heavy investments.

The new brands, most of them based on the open Android platform, compete mainly on pricing versus hardware specifications because the software is the same, mostly vanilla Android. However, a few brands are coming out with sleek and better looking finishes mostly cloning the designs of top brands.

Android platform or Operating system is used by more than 150 vendors worldwide thus making it a fragmented market place. Is there a room for newcomers? Is there a room for old top brands (like Nokia or Motorola) for a legendary come back? May be, May be not. Brands must change their techniques. Consumers must decide. And the decision is hard. In the hard retail space the competition and their techniques are getting sharper to win the common man’s wallet!


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