Weird Small Business Attitude in Kenya

2Going_out_of_Business090203  When it comes to some things, I know I am behind the curve. For example, as i type this, I am listening to a two song playlist on repeat (Ducth – Fena Gitu feat. Kagwe Mungai and Toshi / Badilisha – Jose Chameleon). For some reason, despite the songs literally being years old, I cannot seem to get enough of them. YouTube them – I insist.

I digress – back to the topic at hand. I recently bought an electronic device from what one would describe as a small business in Nairobi. For those who might not know the ins and outs of Nairobi, by small business, I mean a stall (small cramped poorly ventilated space) – in one of the many buildings in and around the Central Business District. The buying process for this device started with a simple search on a well publicized classifieds website (whose identity I am withholding because they already have enough publicity). After filtering out potential devices to purchase at the right price, phone calls were made, one thing lead to another and a couple of hours after starting the search, trekking half way through town, getting a bit lost but finally finding the places after a few (several) direction clarification phone calls and texts, I land at the retailer(s) stall.

After doing the basics of checking whether the device in question works, and does not have too many scratch marks (the photos posted on classified websites are always the stock marketing photos of said devices) and bargaining hard for a reduction in price so that i could get some fare home (if you are not Kenyan, you may not understand this but its okay) I start asking about what other items the shop keeper or owner has available for sale.

More often than not, I found that there are quite a number of reasonably priced items for sale. Not bad, I think – until I ask – “are all these items listed somewhere online?” Two out of three times – this is the answer i got.


As you would expect, the next natural (especially after going over an item that you found online) question would be – “Why not?”

“It is too much hard work and then I get too many phone calls…I would rather not post them online.”

Jaw dropping moment right there. Someone who claims to be in business is complaining about being inundated with phone calls. Phone calls that are leads! Leads that lead to sales! How is it that said business person in a highly competitive environment cannot see the benefit of receiving many leads! More leads generally means more chances of sales which generally implies more profit which is the reason anybody goes into business to begin with. Am I getting it wrong somewhere?

After picking my jaw back up, my next question was always “How come this device was online then and the rest of your stall is still being archaically marketed.” The standard answer to that was “My brother/sister/cousin/friend (take your pick) put it online” – and this can be confirmed as the business owner was rarely the first contact when I called the number offered by the classifieds website; I often got bounced back to the person actually selling the device.

This shocking revelation at how some traditional businesses in Nairobi work – or rather refuse to work is a bit disheartening. It seems to me that consumers are getting online and the people to be blamed for keeping us in the dark ages are the sellers themselves. Unfortunately – it is a chicken egg kind of situation  – hindering the progress of online commerce in this country.

Should you – reader of this blog – have any ideas on how to break this deadlock – so to speak – please share them in the comments. I am not afraid of many comments. I read each one of them and will reply – if a response is necessary. So…start typing.



  1. I would suggest we offer shops and stalls free marketing i.e. free posting of goods and services

  2. The best i can do is offer a free or subsidized system to do the posting for the business – which FYI exists – – but the honors have too be on the business owners to put their products online coz they are the ones who know the pricing and have the responsibility to remove sold items from the listings. That said, the issue was the business owners did NOT want to receive the phone call leads that the online listings generated. How does one help a proprietor like that!

  3. Ignorance is expensive….for the price these business people pay to set up their shops, you would expect they would be more open to online marketing which will in the long run given them exposure to more clients hence increasing their sales hence recoup ROI within a shorter period of time….

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