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Zim Tuck Shops vs. Supermarkets: A Shopper’s Showdown

tuck shops

Business & Career

Zim Tuck Shops vs. Supermarkets: A Shopper’s Showdown

There is need for an innovative solution to bridge the gap between tuck shops and supermarkets

tuck shops

Tuck shops, commonly known as small grocery stores operated by informal retailers, have gained immense popularity amongst Zimbabwean consumers, potentially impacting the profitability of larger supermarkets. These tuck shops have witnessed a surge in demand due to their affordability compared to big supermarkets. They exclusively accept foreign currency and cash for their products, and being informal establishments, they manage to avoid the majority of overhead expenses incurred by larger supermarkets. Consequently, they are able to offer lower prices to consumers, amongst other factors contributing to their success.

Tuck shops vs. supermarkets – which is better for the consumer?


Msikas walked so that tuck shops could run. When you needed small items, you could walk from your house to the nearest msika. As the informal traders grew, they innovated and started having tuck shops in their homes. These are popular due to proximity, extended hours, familiarity with owner/community. This allowed them to stock more goods. You could get your basic groceries from the nearby tuck shop which was a hole in a boundary wall. And now, we have tuck shops all over in the city centre. Same concept: small space, basic goods and these tuck shops are selling out. They are conveniently located almost everywhere and they are always packed.

We can’t deny that tuck shops still have a limited selection as compared to supermarkets. It can take going to several tuck shops to complete your whole grocery list. But due to the high cost of living, the basics are all most people can afford. Whatever you can’t find in the tuck shop, you can always find in a supermarket. Supermarkets will always offer a wider variety and one-stop shopping. It’s not enough to weigh the cons of travel time, higher prices and an overall impersonal experience.


Tuck shops are often perceived as cheaper for essential items and they are. However, you need cash to buy your goods from them. If you’re using plastic money, you’d have to go to the big supermarkets. These supermarkets are exorbitantly priced because they are required by law to use the official exchange rate.

There are sceptics who believe that tuck shops are cheaper because the goods are either counterfeit or defective. This is a valid concern because posts about fake products have shown up across social media. Unfortunately, the high price of something doesn’t mean it’s genuine. Some scammers will sell the fake at the same price as the genuine.

Quality and Safety

Shopping in tuck shops raises a few concerns about storage practices, expiry dates, and hygiene. Cheap can become expensive in the long run. Documentaries such as Carte Blanche and Skhipha amafiles have unearthed counterfeiting operations of food and detergents. There’s a good chance that most of the items are originals but what if you’re really getting what you pay for?

Who is responsible for ensuring health and safety?

It’s a collective effort. We have regulators such as the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, Standards Association of Zimbabwe who need to reinforce the guidelines which regulate the industry. The companies should also take responsibility and guard themselves from being easily counterfeited. For example, the Jameson brand has created security features to help consumers tell the real from the fake.

Manufacturers sell their goods directly to informal traders who pay in USD cash upfront. Big supermarkets do not settle their accounts for goods upfront. This agreement is less desirable to the manufacturers and suppliers. Since manufacturers are selling their goods to informal traders, the onus is also on them to protect the consumers from imitations. Currently, manufacturers don’t have the deniability to be able to say, “do not buy from informal traders because we do not supply them with our products.” If they value the business they are getting from tuck shops, they must also carry the burden of ensuring that consumers are protected.

Adhering to industry guidelines is expensive. Companies will have a whole team dedicated to sorely compliance. Supermarkets cannot take shortcuts and these are some of the overhead costs that protect the consumer. Generally stricter regulations and quality control standards. Most tuck shops are run by people who aren’t qualified and know very little about industry standards. Unqualified employees get exploited and are paid the minimum wage or less. They are not adequately trained to do quality control or to investigate potentially counterfeit goods.

Community Impact

Tuck shops and msikas have provided jobs in a country that has an unemployment rate as high as 48%. Informal traders are able to make a living and provide for their families from selling these basic goods and products. Tuck shops have boosted the support of local businesses, created jobs, and fostered a community spirit. If you’ve ever needed information about an area, it’s the tuck shops and msikas who have the information.

Personal Experience

I haven’t seen a boundary wall tuck shop in my neighbourhood. The msika vendors are always being raided and arrested so their presence is erratic. There’s a big supermarket close to my house. We went by to fetch a few items for supper and the items were barely a plastic bag full and the bill came close to USD$50. I was so shocked I didn’t wait to get to the car, I checked that receipt before I got out of the supermarket. We calculated all the prices and yes it came up to $50. That’s when I made the switch to tuck shops. For that same amount, I can get a month’s worth of basic groceries. I found a cute little Superette in the suburbs that stocks my favourite brands. I buy my goods at the tuck shop price point in a space that has the comforts of a supermarket.

I managed to get the groceries. Looking back in retrospect, I should have just walked away. I think I was just shocked. Big corps make it seem like the consumer has a choice and they are choosing tuck shops but honestly, they don’t have a choice. They don’t have the disposable income. The price disparity is huge. It’s huge enough to risk buying counterfeit products and expired goods.


Shopping in big supermarkets has grasped out of reach for most Zimbabweans. Although, the tuck shop industry needs more policing and guidelines, it is keeping the ordinary people fed at a decent price point. Consumers need to be made aware of the potential issues and concerns surrounding tuck shops so that they can make informed decisions. The manufacturers need to find ways to protect the consumers from counterfeit products to protect their brand and to safeguard their loyal consumers.

Supermarkets are in financial trouble with the upsurge of tuck shops. And consumers can’t enjoy bulk discounts, promotions, loyalty programs at the tuck shops. There is need for an innovative solution to bridge the gap between tuck shops and supermarkets and to successfully merge the advantages of both for the sake of the consumer. Until then, consumers need to discern what’s the best for them and take the necessary precautions to avoid being scammed.

Where do you prefer to do your shopping and why?

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