I’m pretty sure we all hate fiddling with USSD codes when we are about to pay for something in a shop. The dread of that transaction timing out or you missing out one detail and having to restart the process keeps me up at night.
In September of 2018, these fears looked like a thing of the past as EcoCash announced that they would be introducing a more convenient way to pay. Scan and Pay was supposed to be a revolutionary method of payment in the Zimbabwean market but 6 months later I am yet to come across the payment method.
It seems I’m not the only one who missed this one. In fact many don’t even know that it exists;
EcoCash released Scan and Pay (QR Payments) back in September. Since then…
— Techzim (@Techzim) February 25, 2019
After posting our Twitter poll 952 people had voted and 52% had knowledge of it but hadn’t used it. 43% had no idea what it was and only 5% (or 48 people) claim to have used the product. I sincerely hope those aren’t product testers who worked on Scan & Pay. That doesn’t count. Jokes aside though, one of the people who has used the product replied to my comment asking where they had come across the product and they claim they made payments using QR at a number of outlets including Chicken Slice and Total & actually enjoyed the process. This means it’s working but it just isn’t as widespread as I personally hoped it would be by now.
Why is that the case?
The need for data…
If there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that mobile data in Zimbabwe is prohibitively expensive and because the EcoCash app (which contains the QR option) requires mobile data, it means this payment option is going to be available to a minor set of customers. Most people buy data bundles and the data they have can’t be used in the EcoCash App (which is why zero rating the EcoCash was a good idea).
Maybe EcoCash realised this and stopped marketing it, and once that happens merchants also stopped taking it up because either they didn’t know about it or their customer bases didn’t know about it.
Is QR better than what we have already?
We had this conversation with some of my colleagues and they felt that QR wasn’t more intuitive than the ways we are already using when paying via mobile money and to an extent, I agree. Because Scan and Pay wasn’t using Unique QR codes for every transaction but instead a QR code that’s unique to the merchant, the process was quite lengthy. Customers would have to; Open the EcoCash App > Go to make payments > QR Pay > Scan the QR Code > Enter amount to pay > Enter EcoCash Pin. This certainly seems slower than just having the till operator enter your number and a prompt pop-up appears on your phone asking you for your pin.
With unique QR codes that pop-up on a display that problem could be solved but there would now be an adoption problem since merchants would have to build displays that generate these special codes and that’s an extra cost that might not justify the outlay.
The way we are paying with mobile money already seems pretty convenient and fast as is and maybe QR isn’t even necessary to begin with, unless it is being adopted in its most advanced versions.
Maybe the final nail in QR’s coffin is that it’s yet another thing for those who are not as tech savvy to learn. It will be a nightmare trying to teach the older folk how this works and because it’s already doubtful if this more convenient than USSD most users and merchants alike are better off sticking to USSD.
This is not the first time this has been tried
Pan african bank, Ecobank had a go at this QR thing with their own similarly titled Scan+Play but it suffered a similar fate.
A startup -Zapper- also tried their hand at this but that system also does not seem to have picked up pace and it seems the fragmentation of the Zimbabwean payment space is yet another reason why it’s difficult to introduce a new payment option that is seamlessly adopted by merchants and users.