As a Ghanaian student visiting Accra from England, I have been able to compare the consumer experience within Ghana’s capital to the one that I have grown accustomed to in the UK.
The most obvious observation is the reality that the economic landscape far exceeds the out-dated Western perceptions of Africa.
Having grown up in England, I understand how it is that many in Britain view Africa in the way that they do. Both schools and the media drill near consistently negative images of abject poverty pervading the continent (such as a number of publications recently stating that the Cedi had lost 40% of its value against the US Dollar when it was in fact less than this figure), so it has not been uncommon to hear my schoolmates make clearly incorrect assumptions based on what little they truly know about Africa and its individual countries, which I always felt a need to correct.
Visible changes in Accra
It was interesting to see just how much Ghana has come to surpass the expectations of the West. I last visited Accra in 2005, when there was intense construction work taking place, and the changes since then have been highly impressive. Aside from some stores or restaurants, Oxford Street is quite different and far more of a commercial hub than I recalled, and it is a favourite area for the international visitors and volunteers that I have met in my time here.
Similarly, the Accra Mall and Marina Mall would not look at all out of place in London, with their modern architecture and diverse range of stores and eateries resembling those of recently constructed shopping centres there.
I am certain that should my English classmates find out that such establishments were numerous within Sub-Saharan Africa they would be shocked. Reading about commercial growth in Africa and countries such as Ghana while in England truly does not compare to seeing it first-hand.
Modernisation and consumer experience
The modernisation and westernisation of the consumer experience within Ghana has brought it more closely to resemble that of the UK in some aspects, but a significant difference is the greater presence that the Internet has in retail within the latter.
The rise of online shopping has had a massive impact on the retail sector, as the option of simply ordering items from a computer or smartphone and having a delivery come straight to the consumer’s home is often preferable to actively going shopping in the UK.
Though many consumers continue to regularly enter physical stores to purchase goods and services in person, a significant proportion chooses the electronic option instead. According to the IMRG-Capgemini eRetail Sales Index, UK shoppers spent GB£91 billion online in 2013 and are expected to have spent a total greater than GB£100 billion by the end of 2014.
This has led retailers into an environment in which those that do not adapt are left to fail. The demands of the country’s tech savvy demographics have altered the UK’s business and consumer landscape.
With less consumers making their purchases in stores and shopping centres, a number of the UK’s most prominent retailers, such as music record store HMV and general goods retailer Woolworths, have had to make major cutbacks. Such firms have been forced to close numerous branches throughout the country, resulting in job losses, and some such as Woolworths and Blockbuster have almost lost all of the market share that they had so much of only a decade ago.
New SMEs have had to generate business plans knowing that the modern English consumer is now entrenched in the usage of the Internet, and that failure to properly utilise the online space will leave them struggling in their respective markets.
Online shopping boom in Ghana
On the other hand, Ghana is currently lacking the infrastructure for such a system of online orders and delivery to be on the same level. Broadband internet access not being widespread coupled with the excess of cars on the roads already, will prevent such a change in the retail sector from being a reality any time soon.
Additionally, the scourge in Internet fraud associated with online payments in West Africa has limited the surge in the use of online services such as Amazon.
However, the recent development of 4G cellular data becoming available in the country via Surfline,
as well as the already established 3G networks, are paving the way for such development to occur by giving more of the population access to the Internet.
Online shopping services such as ZoobaShop and Tonaton are already seeing notable levels of usage, and the addition of more options and greater convenience would likely see strong growth in online markets. This change would require established and growing firms alike within Ghana to be adaptable to the competition that would come about from increased online shopping should it become more commonplace.
Your bargaining power
Another major difference in the consumer experience is the prevalence of bargaining. For better or worse, prices for everyday goods and services in England are almost always fixed; non-negotiable. Here, my international colleagues and I have had to adjust to the local custom of bartering for a better deal for the likes of taxi rides and other goods and services, a skill that I have become fairly proficient with over the past few weeks.
If you manage to make a vendor budge on their initial price offer for a bargain, then a significant saving can be made. This, however, leads to a degree of uncertainty when needing to estimate how much you will spend on a given transaction or outing ahead of time, which can make budgeting difficult. If you are unable to sufficiently bargain, then you could even be notably overcharged.
I have found that these comparatively loose price controls also extend to noticeable price hikes over short periods of time. I saw that hand sanitiser, an everyday commodity, doubled in price within the same shop from GH¢3 to GH¢6 over the course of a few days.
This is clearly linked to the growing fears of the population over Ebola and cholera, and so shops and vendors are taking advantage of the rising demand for such items.
I have come to learn that while such sporadic changes in prices are next to unheard of in England, they are not uncommon here. Tro-tro fares for the same route have seemed to vary around an average yet still are up to the discretion of the drivers and drivers’ mates.
This is a stark contrast to transportation in London that always has a set cost, only varying between peak and off-peak hours of the day at still consistent rates. Any alteration in price, for instance even a GB£0.20 rise in the cost of taking a bus, is meticulously scrutinised by the public and often is announced by Transport For London (TFL), the public body responsible for operating public transport within London, prior to the price change, and that price will be there to stay.
Here comes global brands
Finally, the evidence of Ghana being a potential market for multinational corporations (MNCs) is also evident. Ghana, like many other African countries, has a sizeable and still growing middle class that are willing and able to purchase more high-end, international goods, even with the depreciation of the local currency, the cedi.
While in England, a large firm would need to find a key area to set up a branch as well as face incumbent competition, these same firms are seeing the potential of settling within Ghana.
For instance, it was immediately apparent that Samsung had a higher market share of the smartphone market in Ghana than it does in England, indicating that the South Korean firm has seen Ghana as a viable source of revenue.
As Ghana’s economy continues to develop, it will likely become more common to see regular High Street Brands from the UK, USA and elsewhere within Ghana’s urban centres. GB
The writer is a visiting Ghanaian student resident in the UK. He is part of the volunteer group Projects Abroad and can be reached at email@example.com