2 March 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

Cardless and Cashless in a Victoria Island Lagos supermarket

Good morning!

On most weekdays, I have an early breakfast which is usually finalised with a very milky cup of Nescafe breakfast (milk+coffee+sugar) plus extra milk. Today is a weekday. And just as I started to feel the pangs, I remembered that I had used my last sachet of Nescafe breakfast two days ago.

A sachet of Nescafe breakfast
A sachet of Nescafe breakfast

I promptly headed down the office staircase with the intention of buying enough sachets to last a couple of weeks from the petty shop on the street. But a few steps to getting there, cheapskate remembered that a sachet of Nescafe from the shop had cost me 100 Naira yesterday. Cheapskate also remembered that I had purchased the string which just ran out at only 60 Naira per sachet from Hubmart, VI in February. Of course, cheapskate considers 40 Naira a significant difference when you're talking about a dozen items.

I quickly decided to head to Hubmart supermarket on Adeola Odeku. It's just a three-minute Keke Marwa ride away from my office. I got a Keke quickly and was at Hubmart in no time. I walked in and as usual, upon being visually bombarded with all the things that money can buy, I instantly forgot why I was there. After some five painful seconds of racking my brain, I regained my bearing and walked quickly towards the tea/beverages aisle.

I was happy to see that they had my Nescafe breakfast sachets in stock. I checked the price and voila; it was still 60 Naira per sachet! At this point, I remembered that I had only 520 Naira in my pocket, which I'd only realised when it was time to pay for the Keke. Having also left my ATM debit card back at the office, I was full of regret because it was the first day of a month; a perfect time to buy this and that.

I did some quick math and selected 7 sachets of Nescafe breakfast (100 Naira for return fare). In the time from aisle to counter, I found myself (for once) deeply empathising with recently established FinTech companies whose cause is to "fix payments in Nigeria". My thoughts: "I have money to pay (in my bank account), you have goods to sell that I want. Why should there be anything on earth standing in the way of converting that combo into a successful transaction"? Hubmart, like most retail businesses in Nigeria, accepts only cash and card (via POS) payments in-store.

I'm not the type to start non-routine discussions with strangers. So, when during checkout, I initiated a discussion with the cashier about alternative payments options, I realised I was deeply pained by this artificial limit on my spending power. Unable to say much as to why there were no additional payment options, she promptly advised me to discuss with her supervisor, pointing behind me to where he (the supervisor) was seated.

Of course, I took the offer. As soon as checkout was done, I made for the little glassed-off room at the corner of the store just behind the checkout aisle where the manager was seated, interacting with his colleagues. I greeted him cheerily even as he stood up to meet me. I made sure I was extra smiley and enthusiastic in my greeting, so he would be relaxed and not think I was here to fight him (as is usually the case when Nigerians ask to see the Manager in Nigeria). I went straight to the point, explaining to him my dilemma and inquiring into whether they were considering adding more payment options.

To my delight, he was empathetic. He let me know that they had been approached by a couple of solution providers seeking to help them out. He mentioned GTB 737 and a solution where you pay by tapping with your phone (PayAttitude I guess). He also told me why those solutions had not been adopted by their business. "While we understand the need to have multiple solutions, we've not found a way to integrate those solutions to our inventory management system to ensure that reconciliation does not become more painful as a result", he said. "Good enough", I replied, then bade him farewell before I made for the exit.

Now I wonder how a simple solution like NIBSS mCash which does not even print receipts at the moment is going to cater to a business with this kind of non-trivial concern. Of course, there's always a way. Someone just has to be ready to do the work to find it and tow it to the end.

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