The photos below show scenes from the market. A brief description of the unique structure of the distribution chain in Nigeria, from the manufacturer to the final consumer, will help the reader make sense of the apparent "jumble" of the scenery presented in the photos.
Readers from high income Western countries must keep in mind that the Nigerian economy is categorized as "less developed." The structure of distribution channels in Nigeria is, therefore, significantly different from what obtains in relatively high income countries.
The distribution channel from manufacturer to final consumer is very highly fragmented, with several layers of intermediaries interposing themselves between the manufacturer and final consumer, breaking down the bulk of the product at every level in the chain from the wholesaler/distributor's level to the micro-retailer's level.
Unlike in high income countries, at the base of the distribution channel is not the retail chain but the petty trader, and finally at an even lower level, the "street hawker," whose entire stock may be no more than a few dollars in value.
The excessive fragmentation of the distribution chain arises from the fact that the final consumer, that is, the average Nigerian, is a low income buyer who, because of her financial limitations, purchases household provisions and supplies in very small quantities. It does not matter whether she is expecting the "Mayan Apocalypse" tomorrow or in a few hours, the average Nigerian housewife lacks the economic power to stock up on supplies like her Western counterpart. She must make daily fresh purchases for household consumption. The average Nigerian housewife typically goes to the market to buy enough provisions to last a day or two. Poorer Nigerians cannot even afford to stock up on provisions to last that long!
The consequence of low purchasing power and inability to stock up on provisions is that the market at the lowest level of the distribution channel comes to the doorstep of the Nigerian family in the form of the street hawker, who breaks the bulk of the product into tiny packages sufficient only for a single use or incident of consumption. For instance, the hawker may package sugar into quantities sufficient for a single cup of tea, that is, a few grams of sugar. She may package salt in small quantities for cooking a few meals or break down the 100kg bag of parboiled rice into single tin measures, just enough to prepare a single meal of boiled rice for a few people. The family that purchases in such quantities must make a separate purchase for every single meal or occasion of consumption.
With the above facts in mind, the apparent disorganized jumble of the market scenery in the photos begins yield its structure.
At the highest level of the distribution channel is the "distributor," who buys directly from the manufacturer in truckloads. The distributor is typically a specialist, who buys a small selection of products in large quantities.
Distributors are categorized as "major" and "minor" distributors. The buildings you see in the background of the market scene include offices and sales outlets of the distributors. Depending on the bulkiness of the product he deals in, the "major distributor" will often only maintain a sales office in the market with his warehouse situated at a convenient location away from the market.
The stalls you see stocked with cartons of provisions by the roadside, represent the second level in the distribution channel. The level consists of individual traders, who have some cash capital to buy "in cartons" from the distributor. The "big trader" may buy in truckloads or busloads or in cartloads, depending on the level of capitalization of his trading business.
What the foregoing analysis boils down to is that, unlike in North America, big retail chains do not exist in Nigeria. The purchasing power of the average Nigerian cannot support the bulk of purchase considered "retail" in a high income economy. So the market moves to break the bulk into smaller quantities, bypassing the retail chain store model, typical of North American supply pyramid.
The stalls you see by the roadside sell products at the bulk level typical of big retail chains in higher income countries. But here in Nigeria, intermediaries at this level of the distribution channel do not usually deal directly with the consumer. Rather, they deal with a large number of "petty traders" who buy a few cartons of their products and break the merchandise into smaller units for resale.
Nigerian "petty traders" deal directly with middle income purchasers. But their sales outlets are also patronized by even smaller "petty traders," who buy from them to resell to consumers in even smaller packaging.
At the base of the supply pyramid is the street hawker, who buys from a trader of his or her choice, breaks the product in tiny packages and hawks to the doorstep of the final consumer.