The Sunday Mail
FOR some high-income earners, shopping has always been a leisure pursuit in which families or couples happily partake.
A recent study stated that shopping can be therapeutic and help improve a person’s mood.
Shopping, according to the research, can also be very good for physical health as walking and carrying shopping bags is said to be capable of burning as much as 385 calories in a week.
However, for most Zimbabweans, shopping for basic necessities such as cooking oil, mealie-meal and even alcoholic beverages has, of late, become an extreme sport.
Giant supermarkets and many other shops are charging wildly different prices for the same goods.
As a result of the price discrepancies, customers are now having to hop from one retail outlet to the other comparing prices before parting ways with their hard-earned money.
It is only bargain buyers that are getting the best deals on the market.
“I have been visiting major shops comparing prices. I notice they all have different prices for the same product.
“I have to compare prices in at least three different shops before I commit to buy,” said Kudzai Mundingi, who was buying groceries in one of the supermarkets located in Harare’s Central Business District (CBD).
Several factors, among them rentals, suppliers, location and discounts have been cited as major contributors to product pricing.
However, what worryingly raises eyebrows is that different outlets of the same retail chain could be renting the same space or location, yet the contrast in their prices could be as sharp as night and day.
“I bought sugar from a tuckshop in downtown Harare. I am now on my way to another supermarket which is further uptown.
“The price of cooking oil there is much cheaper than the price that is being charged by some shops here,” Mavis Midzi, another shopper, added.
A snap survey revealed that such basic things as mealie-meal, sugar, cooking oil, rice and beer can have massive price discrepancies.
For instance, a locally produced two-litre bottle of cooking oil is being sold for US$3,50 by one of the giant supermarkets in town yet an equally big competitor, a spitting distance away, has the same product pegged at US$4,50.
The same product is being sold as high as US$5 in other shops.
Chris Kamba, the spokesperson of the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), advised shoppers to take their time.
“From a consumer point of view, price disparities are good because they encourage competition amongst players.
“As CCZ, we advise consumers to shop wisely by comparing prices in different shops,” Kamba said.
The CCZ, he added, has since created social media groups that are advising consumers on how to shop wisely.
Apart from supermarkets, pharmacies and shops that sell agricultural inputs are also caught up in the price ‘madness’.
It is normal for businesses to charge different prices, however, it is the margins of the price differences that are leaving more questions than answers.
One glaring example is that of three pharmacies that are selling cough syrup from the same supplier at three different prices.
In one of the pharmacies, the syrup was being sold for US$3,50, while the other two were selling the same product for US$5 and US$6.
It’s absolutely wild!
“The issue of discounts, suppliers, location and rentals come into play in the pricing matrix.
“When you buy your medication in the CBD, expect to folk out more compared to when buying it say in the downtown area or in the high-density areas.
“In addition, we have generics in drugs, which naturally means different prices,” said one pharmacist.
Shops that specialise in agrochemicals are also not making the situation any better.
The price of ammonium nitrate fertiliser ranges between US$30 and US$34.
Hopping from one retail outlet to another is not only tiresome but also time-consuming.
Consumers are also concerned about local currency prices that are ‘conveniently’ adjusted on tills.
“We charge in local currency but our prices follow the official United States dollar rate.
“This then means each time there are changes, we make necessary adjustments, which are, however, not as swift as changing stickers on the shelves,” said Tafadza Chigodora, a supervisor with one of the leading supermarkets in the country.
Denford Mutashu, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president, said price disparities are good for the consuming public.
“It means that consumers are spoilt for choice. “
“The disparities show that there is a spirit of competition within the retailing sector.
“Price disparities are normal and very good for the consumers,” he said.
However, Mutashu believes the predicament can easily be addressed if Zimbabweans “preserve and protect” the local currency.
“Some of the price disparities that we see today are a direct result of the parallel market exchange rate. Retailers are charging their prices based on where they would have accessed the foreign currency.
“We must safeguard and strengthen our currency so that it can become a currency of choice.”
Guzzlers are also in quandary.
A social media joke currently trending insinuates bargain buyers are getting sober while searching for better prices.
Ivan Zhakata, president of the Drinkers Association of Zimbabwe (DAZ), which encourages responsible drinking had a word or two.
“We noticed disparities in the prices of beer and other alcoholic beverages in different outlets across the country.
“Although this might be attributed to a number of factors, we urge the outlets to peg their alcoholic beverages at reasonable prices so that people will not resort to cheap illicit brews,” he said.
“They say time is money. Some people who drink alcohol might find it difficult to go from one outlet to another comparing prices. Such people might end up taking the cheaper and readily available illicit brews.”
Some consumers have found solutions that include pooling money in groups of up to six households to buy bulk groceries from wholesalers.
Each household pays between US$25 -30 every month.
Groceries are either bought immediately when the money is paid each month and kept at a member’s house or bought at once after six months of saving.
Either way, the members always get a good deal as they each get 20 kgs of rice, 20kgs sugar, 20kgs flour, a box of cooking oil, two boxes of pasta, another box of washing powder among many other basic groceries.
These grocery pooling money groups, the consumers say, help them get value for their money.
Whilst shopping is considered by some as a luxurious pursuit and a source of happiness, it reamins different story for those that move around comparing prices in supermarkets before buying in order to save that extra dollar.