August 20, 2012
What price brand? No pretence about "fakes"
One of the most fascinating things that emerged from my immersion in the informal trade of China made consumer electronics in Kenya last month was the role played by "fakes".
We assume that cheaper copies of well known brands attempt to fool the customers. Packaging and brand names echo the look and feel of the original as far as they are able and the entire exercise is one of "bait and switch". In fact, this is not the case at all. Nobody is fooled and people know exactly what they are buying.
What is interesting, however, is how these "fakes" are sold.
Shopkeepers - whether the upcountry retailers catering to their local, rural customer base or the wholesalers back in the Central Business District dealing with rural stockists - offer you a choice. They display both the original brand, a genuine product of quality with warranties and whatnot, and the "fake" version, whose only guarantee is caveat emptor, and leave it up to you to assess your willingness to take a risk.
Their words often follow along the lines of "Here is the original Nokia, costing so much and doing this, this and this, while here is the China made product closely resembling the above but has these additional features and costs only so much". Everyone is completely aware of the lifetime value of either product and the risk involved in ending up with a dud.
It is upto the customer to decide if they want to spend for durability and reliability and quality or make the tradeoff for a short term gain in features, upfront cost and the caveat of a short lifespan.
This approach seems to fit within the constraints of the informal economy's cash flow volatility as well as the customer demographic's mindset around brand value and product performance. No one that I spoke to, either at the wholesaler, the shopkeeper or the customer level, seemed to feel that the "fakes" were an attempt to defraud them in anyway.
Its a pragmatic approach to affordability and aspirational ownership.