Since the adoption of the mixed hard currencies monetary regime in Zimbabwe at the end of 2009, the one problem that has refused to go away is that of change. Retailers just don’t have enough change to give shoppers. It’s the same situation with commuter bus operators, street vendors and just about anyone that sells goods.
The problem afflicts mostly the consumers who are forced to buy more stuff (usually candy, cigarettes or other such small items) than they intended, to round off the total amount. Either that or consumers have to accept their change in the form of credit notes printed on thermal paper. Needless to say, the credit notes are easy to lose and ink on thermal paper fades fairly quickly. If the customer doesn’t lose the credit note, the shop is still guaranteed of a returning customer as the notes can only be redeemed at the shop they were issued. The problem is extremely convenient for the retailers and this is without doubt part of the reasons it remains unresolved more than two years later.
But the solution to the problem may finally be here. A very convenient one at that.
A local mobile phone airtime startup, Yo Time, has launched a product that allows shoppers to redeem change as airtime at the checkout point. The one small condition is that the change has to be more than US 10 cents. Currently, the startup can only facilitate change as airtime to Econet subscribers. Information we have suggests subscribers on the other mobile phone networks (NetOne and Telecel) may be getting the service too in the coming weeks. The Econet network alone accounts for about 63% of the total mobile phone subscriptions in Zimbabwe.
While the service is not available at all major retail shops yet, (nor is it available in commuter buses), many leading chain supermarkets already support it. We imagine the change problem is one the retailers are not in a hurry to have resolved, but adverts the startup has published in the local newspapers so far show they have made significant progress signing up retailers around the country.
We have contacted the Yo Time founders and will be posting more information about the startup once we have it.