Imagine shopping for milk at a grocery store and there are no prices on the shelves. In order to determine the price, you have to walk up to the cashier and ask for it. That cashier has the full authority to give any price, and is able to change it in order to get the milk sold. There are no other stores in town and the milk has not been sold for quite some.
If you had to buy milk, where would you start? How would you gather information in order to suggest a price to pay? Difficult to answer.
In the digital age, it's possible to collect and distribute pricing information about all sorts of products. The most liquid of markets trade publicly owned shares in a very organized manner, with the law demanding transparency and access to information. This makes prices relatively well known. The internet makes them very easy to access in real-time.
Some economists postulate that the simple reason buyer will bid at a different amount to what a seller will ask for, in terms of price, is purely an "informational phenomenon" (Golston 1983).
Using this assumption, we decided that pricing information should be readily available for farmers and traders.
When we rolled out our pricing information subscription service, OnaBei (or "check the price" in Swahili) no one bought it. Not one user.
Surely there would be a market for information since it allows you to get weekly prices ahead of your yearly or monthly deals. At 400 ksh ($4) a year, you could potentially save 15,000 ($150) on your one acre of land.
Still. No one.
After interviews with farmers we understood that despite information being valuable, they were reluctant to sign up for a subscription through the phone, wary of a scam. Scam artists are clever in Kenya, and it is not easy to know who is being honest to you via SMS, especially when you have little knowledge outside of your rural town.
With that information, we decided to put OnaBei marketing on hold. Anyone can still subscribe, but we are now using our weekly collections of pricing information to education farmers with in-person meetings and voice calls.
The goal of our brand is to maintain quality, transparency and customer service. With time we hope the subscription service feels secure to users and offers valuable, accurate pricing information.