As I drove home from work one Friday evening, I found myself concerned that I had just lost my K2.50 (two kwacha fifty tambala) change. Let me explain lest I be accused of exaggeration.
You see, like I do most Friday evenings, I went to a retail shop to do the usual weekend shopping. I bought groceries worth K19 997.50 and I paid K20 000; the cashier simply gave me my receipt and she proceeded to attend to the next customer. To be honest with you, as I received my receipt, I cared less that I was not given my little change. After all, when was the last time I saw a 50 tambala?
It was not the first time that I have had to give up my little change because the shop did not have a K1 or any tambala coin. I tried to console myself with the question: “What can a K2.50 buy in Malawi these days?” Unfortunately, that did not work. Instead, I found myself lost in mental calculations to address my question. If the K2.50 change is withheld from 1 000 customers a day, the shop retains K2 500 a day, about K75 000 a month and K900 000 a year! Now is that small change?
While I understand the marketing psychology behind ‘odd prices’, I just do not appreciate the practice of retaining customers’ change. Those who have studied ‘psychology pricing’ explain that consumers tend to perceive ‘odd prices’ as being significantly lower than they actually are, tending to round to the next lowest monetary unit. Thus, prices such as K1.99 are associated with spending K1 only rather than K2. Let me admit, an item selling at K199 999 would appear to me cheaper than one selling at K200 000, although the difference is really only K1.
The use of odd prices is not illegal per se. However, according to the Competition and Fair Trading Act, it is an unfair trading practice to engage in a conduct that is likely to mislead the public as to the price of any product. For example, if bread is priced at K199, but there is no change when you pay K200, is that not misleading? In essence, the bread costs K200. So why not price it as such?
Furthermore, according to the Act, it is an unfair trading practice to engage in unconscionable conduct in carrying out trade in goods. In simple English, unconscionable conduct is that which is immoral, unethical or wrong. In my view, it is extremely immoral, unethical, unjust and wrong that retail shops freely retain our little change. Needless to say that you cannot buy from most retail shops if you are short of any amount, be it a one tambala. Let us also not forget that shops can make a million just out of customers’ change.
Not only do I find the practice of retaining customer’s change unfair, but somewhat discriminatory too. Think about it, consumers who pay through credit cards, Visa cards or cheques do not lose a single tambala while those that pay with cash just have to shrug away their change.
Like I said, I appreciate the idea behind psychology pricing and odd pricing is not necessarily illegal. However, shops should give us our change, even the smallest amount. If not, then they should use odd prices that can afford us our change such as K1 995 or K1 595.
I am sure that, as consumers, we will find something worth K999 995 to be way cheaper than that priced at K1 million and to my satisfaction, we can have our K5 change. Just to prove a point, next time I will not shrug away, I will smile and say; “As a matter of fact, yes, I want my one tambala change!”