Marketing and Sales Strategies of Onitsha Main Market Traders

Marketing and Sales Strategies of Onitsha Main Market Traders

Every seller in a Nigerian open market invites every passer-by to patronise him or her. This strategy can be found in every part of this country. But whether the buyer will respond to this invitation and patronise the caller depends on a lot of things, one of which is the strategy used by the seller. I never realised this thing until I found myself in different parts of the country and witnessed different attitudes of sellers.

Some sellers lose their patience during price haggling and tell the buyers to try other places. Some just ignore buyers and send them away with their silence. There are those that will pick up quarrels because their buyers demanded for prices they believed are too low. I once had an experience where one woman that was selling tomatoes pick up a broomstick, used it to make circular movement over her wares and then threw it at me saying I wanted to bring bad luck to her because I priced her tomatoes low in the mornings (lol). Well, I always find something different in Onitsha Main Market.

My mother always says that an Onitsha market trader can sell sand to a man in the desert because of his sweet words. Truth is, in Onitsha Main Market, once you step into a shop to check on their wares, unless you don’t have money at that moment, you can hardly leave that shop without buying something. And you will be happy that you did. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you the strategies these people use to get me all the time (even till today).

1. Style of Inviting Customers

Once you enter that market (it’s actually hard to state where the market started and ended), I will start receiving invitations from different people. These people won’t say the normal “Aunty, come and buy” sort. They always make theirs colourful and personal. They say things like “Aunty, your clothe is beautiful. I have something like that.” “Fine aunty, good morning. Did you come to market today?” (This type always makes me smile and respond). “Aunty I have beautiful clothes that will size you. I even have for your fine children” (As if they know my children). Honestly, these people personalise their own system of invitation, making it look like they knew you before. Replying their greetings and questions could lead to further discussions on what I want. If I don’t want what they sell, they will happily direct me to where I can get them. If they sell what I wanted, they will lead me like I’m an emperor to their shops.

2. Receiving Customer at the Shop

When I get to the shops, they will first offer me a seat. Next, they will ask if the electric fan is ok for me and all. They will ask about my trip (as if they know where I’m coming from); if it’s been long I have been looking for the thing, and so many other things. By now the person that led me to the shop would have left to look for more customers while someone else attends to me.

You see this strategy, these traders use it to connect with the prospective buyer and then win their trusts. When this connection becomes successful, the trader can access the buyer’s taste and budget. They also use this to learn how to work on the buyer to get him to part with his money. This stage can last as long as possible.

3. Price Haggling

The price haggling of a trader in Onitsha Main Market is worth emulating. To start with, they will bring out goods that are of higher qualities and more expensive. From there, they will keep coming down until they get to the quality and price range you can afford. Then, price haggling starts.

Unlike most places I’ve been to, where traders call people names for mentioning lower prices, Onitsha Main Market man or woman will work on your psyche to get you to see things from his or her side. He will plead; he will cajole; he will tell you that the selling price will only give him a profit of fifty naira; you will even be told stories of how they ‘suffered’ to make ends meet because ‘sales are poor’ (even the current selling price was arrived at because they needed to make some sales). Chai! These people eh. By the time they are done with you, you won’t know how to demand for a lower price.

4. Unavailable Brand

In some places, when a seller doesn’t have the brand requested by a buyer, he will either tell the buyer to check the next shop or just plainly tell him that it’s unavailable. This is not the usual practice in Onitsha. In Onitsha, the owner of the shop you entered will first try to convince you to buy the brands available. If you insist on that one you wanted, he will tell you that someone will be sent to bring it from their ‘other shop’. Which other shop? The person sent out will go to the neighbouring shops to look for it. If they tell you that the brand isn’t in the market, believe them or else you may search through the market and not get it.

This strategy is good for both the seller and the buyer. For the seller, he is able to retain his customer while he creates good working relationship with his neighbours (you know, ‘you sold mine when yours was finished, so I’ll sell yours when mine is finished’ kind of relationship). For the buyer, it saves him a lot of stress moving around the market in search of the product.

5. Team Work

In Onitsha Main Market, the sellers always have cordial relationship with their neighbours even though they sell the same thing. There is no form of competition and fighting over customers there. Rather they will team up to help a neighbour convince a buyer. The major reason behind this practice needs to be found out.

6. Entertaining Prospective Buyers

Sometimes these sellers buy drinks for their prospective buyers – though this depends on the quantity of things the buyer is likely to buy. But they can willingly offer you drinking water. Note that this happens during price haggling, or even before it. So, tell me how I can comfortably walk out of a shop without buying anything after I’ve finished the drinks?

The summary of it all is that in Onitsha Main Market, the traders make their buyers feel special, important and appreciated. They are ready to ‘serve’ their customers. To them, every naira counts – a customer that will bring in N100 is treated with the same respect as the one that will bring in N10,000. There are so many lessons to be learnt from Onitsha Main Market traders.

Business men and women, and sales agents need to learn that everybody is a prospective customer that can bring in much value. They need to learn to connect with their prospective and existing customers. They should learn the power of team work and good relationship with their ‘neighbours’. This means that they should minimise unhealthy competitions with other persons and companies in their line of business. Honestly, someone needs to carry out a proper research on the marketing and sales strategies of the Onitsha Main Market traders so they can become marketing models for businesses.

Ok, so now you know why these Onitsha people collect all your money once you go there. What do you plan to do with this knowledge?

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3 thoughts on “Marketing and Sales Strategies of Onitsha Main Market Traders

  1. The traders spend six or seven years in apprenticeships, internalizing these things, they don’t just happen overnight. It’s different from recruiting people for marketing or sales roles, then put them in a classroom for six weeks or three months, and then ‘release’ them to the outside world, a different environment from classrooms. The traders see the buyers daily, their human relationship training is practical and iterative; nothing beats such model.

    As for being ‘good neighbours’ or not being in competition, actually there is written (or unwritten) rule that you do not call or persuade a potential buyer who’s already standing at the front of another’s shop, else you could be reported to the executives or task force. Those markets are highly organised in their administrative structures and processes, so do not think you can just do anyhow there, you will be sanctioned.

    Marketing techniques and customer relationship management aren’t alien to us, the only issue is that most things aren’t documented, and therefore not easily transferable and scalable. So when we want to teach students and salespeople these things, we end up going for books from the West, then trying to learn their own use cases and examples.

    1. Unfortunately most of these books we consult and use during training were written by people who took out time to survey and understand how their market works. I appreciate the fact that you took out time to explain how Onitsha Market operates. I wish we could make these things available for startups and existing companies.


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