woman's diary

Money & Finance

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Recently we visited a supermarket to purchase some items. Upon giving the cashier money he proceeded to give us change as two sweets and we vehemently refused to take them and demanded for legal tender. Insistent on his stand he advised us to speak to the manager who was as adamant as his staff. He would rather we returned the shopping than get coins as change. Seeing that we were not budging the cashier gave us change inclusive of coins which lay in his cash till all this time.
As we are all aware, this is a common trend in supermarket chains these days and hence we pose a question: are we back to barter trade? To analyse this question we may define barter trade using the Britannica definition as the direct exchange of goods or services—without an intervening medium of exchange or money. Commonly used between 9,000-6,000 B.C, the challenges outweighed the advantages and hence led to the current use of money as a medium of exchange. Therefore if we are to revert to the use of barter trade we need to have been able to overcome these challenges.

Firstly, the use of barter trade required double coincidence of wants. This means if I want your goods you should also want mine. Taking the case of the supermarkets what makes them believe that customers will be interested in sweets or matchboxes? Assumptions will not work where one party refuses the bargain and hence will appear more as forced sale to the consumer. Worse still, for one to benefit if they took the sweets, they would have to look for someone who wants the sweets in return for something they wanted.

Secondly, barter trade lacked a system of future payments. To this a question lingers in my mind, should you take the sweets and produce them back the following day in exchange for a product and will they accept? Your guess is as good as mine! Even so supermarkets operate on a fixed price method where you cannot purchase anything even you are less of a shilling.

Thirdly ,the barter system lacks storage of value. The products you are given have an expiring date and more so as seen earlier may not be used as a unit of exchange in future thus beating the purpose of its use.

Fourth, sweets lack a unit of common value. For a person to appreciate the sweets they would have to maximize their utility. The supermarkets give these sweets based on the market value not on the consumers wish. Hence if they should use them the value derived from the sweets should be commensurate to the maximization of the consumer’s utility.

Fifth, sweets are not generally acceptable. One of the key features of money is that it should be commonly acceptable. Acceptability should be to all, at all times and at all places. Fact is only a small percentage love sweets evident from the fact that no sweet making company has been listed in the Wall Street let alone the NSE. Again, of this small percentage only a a fraction is willing to take sweets 24hrs a day. Still, the sweet lover cannot take sweets to any other trader in exchange for services rendered.

Sixth, sweets are not divisible. When the supermarket gives you one sweet worth two shillings you cannot cut it into half to pay a shilling.

Seventh, sweets are not scarce. One of the key features of money is that it should be scarce. You will agree that sweets are not scarce, every street has a sweet vendor, and every grocer sells sweets. Even the companies producing them are many. Imagine if sweets were declared legal tender by the government, we would all be rich starting with the producers followed by the business owners.

Eighth, sweets cause a future cost implication. Assuming you eat sweets every day, before you know it you will be incurring dental costs, diabetic related complications which will not be treated free of charge. Even if the medical cost were free, think of the sleepless nights because of the pains, the time taken to see the doctor and the inconvenience caused by change in dietary habits as a result of controlling the body sugar levels.

Ninth, sweets are easily forged. Just think how many sweets taste the same despite the different wrappings?

Tenth, this is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Assuming a packet of sweets contain 100 sweets each with a retail value of Kshs 2 and a wholesale price of Kshs 1.50. The fifty cent may seem negligible to you but note that it is a 33% profit. Now imagine these supermarkets have at least 10 branches each serving an average of 5000 clients per day, ceteris Paribas assuming 90% are given sweets it means the net profit made from this trade in a 30-day month will be Kshs 675,000. Note we have considered the quantity discount they could bargain for as this will be 13,500 packets of sweets.

We wish to conclude with a few recommendations;

Firstly the Central bank should advise if there is a coin shortage and the remedial effects of this shortage.
Secondly supermarkets should come up with more innovative ways of resolving such an issue. By this I don’t mean the round up the prices to the nearest five shilling but rather use other channels like increasing of smart card points. They could also develop some form of discount vouchers subject to the regulations in place. Another way is by looking for cost minimization ways that would lead to reductions of costs.
Thirdly if the customer is not comfortable with the proposed trade in the case of sweets they should not try and coerce them. After all the ‘Customer is Always Right.’ More importantly remember they are the reason businesses open their doors for.

Sylviah Wambui & Caroline Gathoni.

Last Updated on Monday, 29 August 2011 08:38

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