Chai toh phuchka, pay via e-wallets

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Jatin Baypari has been running a paan shop at Webel Crossing, Salt Lake Sector V , for the past seven years. But never had he faced a situation like the one that arose post the Centre’s decision to demonetise `500 and `1,000 notes. Business was dry for two days straight, with most customers purchasing paan and cigarettes on credit. “That was till I got this idea from a fellow shopkeeper -to open an e-wallet account and accept digital payments. Life has been a lot simpler for me as well as my customers since then,” said Jatin, the bulk of whose customers are techies. Half a kilometre away , on College More, tea stall owner Anurudra Biswas took a similar decision a week back. “Most of my customers are engineering students and they gave me this idea of accepting digital payments. Now it seems it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said with a smile. Jatin and Anurudra are just the tip of the iceberg.
Innumerable small-scale businessmen and roadside vendors in the city have switched to e-wallets in the past week. CT spoke to a few to find out how smooth has the transition been. Here’s the lowdown.

THE DIGITAL CASH BOOM

After some initial hiccups, digital trade has more or less been a two-way street. According to Sonia Dhawan from the most popular e-wallet company , Paytm, there has been an 80% growth in offline (mobile-tomobile) payments in Kolkata over the past week, along with a 340% growth in merchant registrations. So, despite the fact that India has traditionally been a cash-driven economy , the demonetisation move has forced a shift towards digital transactions, with thousands of new customers and vendors opting for the service. This has effectively made life easier on both ends of the counter. Md Sabbir, assistant manager at a BPO, said the entire Sector V area is filled with roadside food stalls, which serve as economical lunch and dinner destinations for IT professionals. “But post demonetisation, I was left with no option but to dine at proper restaurants that accepted credit or debit cards. That made things a bit expensive. Then I noticed that some roadside joints had started accepting digital payments. What a relief that was,” he said with a broad smile.

The relief was equal for the vendors, as Ramesh Patnaik, a fruit-seller in Jadubabu’s Bazar who started accepting digital payments last week, told us. “Initially, there was hardly anyone paying digitally . But the numbers have been steadily increasing,” he said.

Anurudra said his daily turnover is around `5,000, and currently , 70% of that is coming into his e-wallet.Similar is the case with Shambhu Maiti, who owns a street-side fruit shop in New Town. “On a normal day , I make anything between `2,000 and `2,500. Now, nearly 40% of that is coming into my e-wallet,” he said.

EASE OF USE

All the vendors agreed that e-wallets make transactions really easy and hassle-free. “Almost everyone has a smartphone nowadays and all one has do is install the wallet, put in some cash and start paying. It’s extremely easy if you know the process,” Ramesh said.

The biggest advantage of e-wallets, however, is the fact that the vendors never face the hassles of returning small change. Asif Munir, the owner of Super Star Biryani in Sector V , said digital transactions had made his life much easier. ” A plate of chicken biryani costs `60 and earlier, most customers paid using at least a `100 note. It was a pain to keep returning change. But when it comes to e-wallets, I receive the exact amount. Imagine my relief,” he said.

Bablu Shaw, a phuchkawala at Lake Market, who decided to accept digital payments last week, echoes similar sentiments. “I’m not very comfortable with digital transactions and created the account out of compulsion. But it soon turned out that it’s one of the easiest ways to do business,” he said with a smile.

For Sonalika Sen, an IT professional, e-wallets mean security .”I’ve always felt unsafe while travelling with cash. But now, when more and more small shops are accepting digital payments, I don’t have to worry about carrying too much cash,” she said.

THE TECHNOLOGY AND ENGLISH HURDLES

Despite all the advantages, most petty vendors had been facing two major problems -technology and the interface language. We came across many vendors who are hesitant about the shift because of these two factors. “The app is in English, which makes it difficult for me to understand the various transactions or notifications. But since I can understand numbers and basic maths, I am using it. But many shopkeepers I know are afraid of making the shift, as they can’t read or write in English,” Ramesh told us.

But in its latest update, Paytm has rolled out support for 10 Indian languages, including Hindi and Bengali, though other e-wallets are yet to do so. That should make life easier for most vendors and customers alike.

THE PERKS

E-wallet use comes with its set of perks, as most vendors and users are fast finding out. While digital money is yet to be accepted along the entire supply chain, most vendors are using it to pay electricity bills, phone bills and even enjoy multiplex movies! “I had seen malls from the outside and heard about multiplexes, but this was the first time I actually watched a movie in one! I purchased tickets using an e-wallet and got substantial cashback, which effectively reduced the ticket price,” said Mintu Mondal, a fruit juice seller in New Town.

Manu Sadhukha, a tea stall owner at Behala, has been paying his electricity and telephone bills digitally .”The wallet has helped me in many ways, especially in the past week or so,” he said.

Paytm

In the past one week, Paytm has registered a 700% increase in overall traffic and 1,000% growth in the amount of money added to accounts over the past couple of days. Besides, app downloads have increased by 300%, and the number of transactions per user has gone up from 3 per week to over 18 per week. Kolkata has seen a growth of over 80% in number of offline transactions, while the rate of merchant enrollment has grown by over 340%. “As consumers across Kolkata are running out of hard cash, they are using our system instead of queuing up outside ATMs. So, no wonder more and more people are using our service,” Paytm representative Sonia Dhawan told CT.
This e-wallet saw a 100% increase in overall traffic in the past week, with app downloads jumping by 200%, transactions increasing 18 times, 2,000% growth in the amount added to personal wallets and offline transactions increasing 4-5 times. “MobiKwik payments are accepted across sectors and many new users are coming on board every day. Our endeavour is to facilitate seamless and secure payments for masses and we are prepared to serve over 300 million Indians with our wallet. Also, since people are facing issues in procuring and transacting with cash, we have announced 0% fee on bank transfers to promote wallet transactions,” said Bipin Preet Singh, co-founder of MobiKwik.
Money “We need to understand that despite the advent of digital payments serv ice providers and mobile wallets, India has predominantly been a cash-dependent economy. The move to ban `500 and `1,000 notes will inspire more users to opt for digital payments. Since the announcement, our transactions have increased by over 90%. Enquiries by merchants have also increased by 50%.
While our average daily transactions amount to `12 lakh, we are anticipating it to grow to `25 lakh in the upcoming months,” PayU India CEO Amrish Rau told us.