Recharge card sellers groan as buyers move online
By Maria Famakinwa
online shopping allows Nigerians to buy and sell almost anything.
However, in the recent time, those who sell recharge cards have been experiencing the other side of online transactions. Recharge card sellers complain that the adoption of digital method of payment for airtime has led to a huge reduction in the sales of recharge vouchers by the vendors, leading to many quitting the business while others added other ventures to their recharge card business.
For convenience, people now adopt the digital form of buying airtime compared to years back when Nigerians had to buy scratch cards and paper cards to credit their mobile account. Now, it is done via various channels such as Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), Bank apps, ATM and POS. Some recharge cards sellers who still manage to be in the business while speaking with The Hope, said that most customers prefer to buy airtime online which is forcing many sellers out of the business.
Mr Bayo Olaniyi, a public servant, who has been in the business since 2008, disclosed that the rate at which people buy recharge cards in his outlet has dropped and this is forcing some sellers out of the business.
His words: “You cannot compare what I sell now to what it was ten years ago. I used to think I was the only one experiencing this until a friend from another state who also sells recharge cards complained about the problem. Though, the gain is not much but when you record high sales, you will be able to make something reasonable out of it. When I just started the business, my customers were those who woke me up very early in the morning to buy recharge cards. But now, most customers prefer to buy recharge cards online from their banks which is not good for some of us who sell paper recharge cards. Thank God that I have other means of income.
A single mother, Olubunmi Ogidi, who disclosed that the number of people that patronize her has reduced drastically, hinted that providing for herself and her six -year- old son was tough before she decided to be selling fairly used clothes (Okrika) to meet her needs.
She said: “I asked a male customer, who used to buy at least N2,000 worth of recharge cards from me why he no longer patronises me. He told me that he now recharge his line through his bank account. That was when I discovered that many things they can always do in my shop can be done online. Sincerely speaking, buying airtime online has affected a lot of people including me. Back in those days whenever I needed extra money to buy something important, all I had to do was stay in the shop beyond 8pm. That worked like magic, because the area was always busy. Unlike now that staying in the shop longer makes no difference. That is why you hardly see sellers of recharge cards on the streets like before.
“What is most frustrating is that there is no gain on it. Thank God for my other business which has been sustaining me. You will hardly see any seller of recharge card depending only on it without additional business otherwise, such will die of hunger. Most times, I don’t bother myself about it unless those selling in bulk to me bring them. I focus more on the fairly used clothes business which has been sustaining me and my child. Recharge card business is gradually fading away because there are alternative ways of recharging and there is nothing anybody can do about it unless mobile phones are discarded which is not possible,” she said.
According to an unemployed graduate, Ms Sekinat Abolade, the advent of mobile apps for recharge vouchers, cabs, food and household items, among others, has continued to deplete the sales made daily from selling recharge cards. The lady who didn’t mince words, lamented that the downturn in her business was giving her concern.
“I have been selling recharge vouchers for about four years and I can tell you that the situation has never been this bad. It’s as if someone commanded people to stop buying airtime. I accused some of my customers of patronising other people, and some of them said they usually top-up their phones online whenever they run out of airtime.
“When I became worried why recharge cards business was not moving like before , I asked a friend who works with one of the service providers and he said that most customers would prefer to recharge directly online which could easily be done anywhere and anytime instead of stressing themselves to go to where recharge cards are being sold. He also said that the cost of producing paper recharge card is higher for the company compared to the digital form of recharging. These costs include printing, distribution, among others. This is one of the reasons digital channels are more profitable for the company compared to paper recharge cards.”
She stressed that she was considering quitting the business for other profitable ventures but for her frail health. “If not for my frail health, I would have taken up marketing job but some of my friends who are into it advised me against it due to my nature. I started selling recharge cards five years ago when my efforts to get government employment failed. Then, I was selling between N10,000 to N15,000 in a day and I was coping until when the situation changed. Due to this, I am also a make-up artist which has been helping me financially,” she said
A businessman, Mr Lanre Molebi, sighted loading a recharge card online, said that he prefers to recharge online than buy the recharge card (on paper) due to the convenience that comes with it. “I prefer to buy airtime through my bank because at that moment I won’t feel that I’m spending my money to buy airtime and some other times I don’t have cash, so it’s easy to just buy directly from the bank.
Another factor that discourages many people from patronizing recharge card sellers is sharp practices of some of the sellers who usually sell already used recharge cards for unsuspecting customers. I once bought N500 recharge card only to be told when loading that the card had been used. I returned it to the seller and he refused to refund my money or give me another one as he maintained that I was the one who loaded it despite not having any proof. Since then, I have decided not to patronize any recharge card sellers,” he said.