It might seem like a crazy idea to turn township shops – better known locally as Spaza shops – into Wi-Fi hotspots, but it shows an appreciation by Pakistani businessmen of the needs of their South African customers.
So far the hotspots are proving to be popular among young people, who inevitably end up spending money at these spaza shops.
Ever the envy of local township store owners, the innovative Pakistani’s continue to endear themselves to customers with lower prices and now with Wi-Fi.
Townships spaza shops and apartheid-era corner stores become strategic Wi-Fi hotspots
In Modimolle township of Phagameng, Pakistani shop owners are turning their shops into free Wi-Fi hotspots.
In South African townships foreign nationals from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and even Somalian are all referred to by locals as “Pakistanis”.
In the past spaza shops and corner stores mainly focussed on daily provisions such as bread, milk, maize meal, cool drinks, and cigarettes, but now free Wi-Fi is an added reason to spend time at the Pakistani shops.
Young people are drawn to these shops to access free Wi-Fi. They can access the internet, chat with friends on social media platforms, download music, and videos.
Free Wi-Fi attraction is not surprising, it works at big shopping centres
In the age of smartphones, tablets, smart watches – innovative businesses are using free Wi-Fi to attract and retain customers.
Youngsters in Phagameng are flocking to the Pakistani spaza shops, where they have ‘taken over” pavements from where they access the free Wi-Fi.
The throng of youngsters spills over to surrounding places of business such as fruit and veg stalls to access the digital world – with Facebook, Twitter, Mxit and WhatsApp being among the most popular social media platforms.
Pakistani shop owners probably noticed how free Wi-Fi access was a major attraction at big shopping centres and now it is working for them in townships.
Even in the townships customer expect free Wi-Fi at the shops
Mamushe Tamire, the owner of Cross Road Supermarket on the busy R101 to Polokwane, said: “We are
offering the kids free Wi-Fi. We want them to download music, videos and access the internet for free.”
Tamire said he has two service providers – Vodacom and Cell C.
“I prefer the two companies as they provide cheaper data bundles which I share with the Modimolle kids,” he says.
Other corner shop owners were not keen to share information, but youngsters told TechFinancials.co.za that they were sitting next to the shops to access the internet through free Wi-Fi
By offering free Wi-Fi, the Pakistani shop owners are gaining competitive advantage.
Piet Motse, a youngster from Extension 10 in Phagameng, is one of the youngsters drawn to the Wi-Fi hotspots.
He says he grateful to the Pakistani shop owners for providing them with a Wi-Fi password after they buy something at the shop.
Motse said several people can share the access password until it expires.
“I am able to access the internet and be able to chat on Mxit and WhatsApp with my friends and download videos.”
He said he also does his schoolwork at the hotspot as he can easily work with other pupils who are far away when they are doing their homework.
During the week around 4 pm Pakistani shops are buzzing with youngsters. Some said they need Wi-Fi to do research. Others simply enjoy the digital space, which they fervently explore.
YouTube is a favourite among the leisure surfers.
Many older residents seem oblivious as to why so many young people hang around these shops for hours.
In their own, the Modimolle Pakistani shop owners have used technology to give young people equality when it comes to access wifi.
In return, the free Wi-Fi has created a band of customers who are unlikely to resent their presence in the townships.
In the past foreign nationals were attacked and their shops were looted by young people most likely acting on behalf of local businessmen, who complained they were losing customers the Pakistanis.
The locals could not match the cheaper prices offered by the Pakistanis – and now the free Wi-Fi move has further endeared them to the locals.
Free Wi-Fi has brought peace to Modimolle.