There is no way to sugarcoat this, VPayments is just dead tech, nobody I know uses it. Nobody I know has ever used it; at least not regularly. This is where I have to confess that I am not omniscient and could therefore be wrong and somehow VPayments could be thriving unbeknownst to my ignorant self so as not to offend anyone.
The truth though is when it comes to online shopping and payment systems in Zimbabwe, I like to think I have my ears on the ground. I interact with a lot of people in this sector and most online shops I know, even the few that accept local payments do not have Vpayments integrated or if they do, for example, if they use Paynow, they tell me they have never really received any payment via that channel.
The trouble with VPayments
On paper, VPayments sounds good and I am sure the underlying tech that powers it is sound. There is one little problem with it, in my opinion. It actually requires people to go to their bank to sign up for the service before they can use it. That is a pretty big ask and probably the biggest reason why the gateway never caught on.
It also doesn’t help that when Vpayments made its debut, it was during the first USD era before banks started limiting online USD payments. Here Vpayments was competing against Visa and MasterCard and it seems they lost that battle. Why would anyone go to the bank to register for Vpayments when they could just make the payment using Visa/MasterCard. It’s something that also made online merchants never bother to sign up with Vpayments either.
Instead, Vpayments should have been developed in a way that would have allowed people to enter their card numbers and ATM pins when checking out. People should not have been required to sign up either. Imagine the uptake if people would just be told to enter the card number on the front face of their card and then enter their normal pin.
It should be possible for Zimswitch to implement this. Steward Bank’s Sosholoza had a similar option that allowed you to enter a bank card number and pin and it worked. Zimswitch already powers interbank fund flows behind the scenes it shouldn’t be too hard to have something like this.
Or maybe a ZIPIT gateway
Ever since the RBZ docked Ecocash’s (and other mobile money operators) tail it has been very hard to make local high-value online payments. With transactions capped at $5,000 ZWL developers have been forced to create various workarounds such as accepting multi-step payments and none of this works well in my experience.
It annoys me to no end that it is easier to make an online payment using a Visa or MasterCard even when you are paying a local company. If you use a Visa card it is very rare for you to get debited without the merchant you are buying from getting credit. So rare it has never happened to me in close to 10 years of online shopping. In comparison I can recall at least 20 occasions this has happened to me in the last 3 years of using mobile payment methods.
Making multiple payments to the same merchant compounds this problem. It creates a scenario where only one of your payments goes through but the other one fails. Anyone who has gone through the pain of trying to get a mobile wallet reversal (who hasn’t really) knows what a pain it is. So what happens when one payment fails, do you get the entire set of payments reversed? Even the payment that went through or do you just reverse the failed one and try to find a way to pay the merchant? Most e-commerce carts are not equipped to handle this.
Which is why given the limitations a ZIPIT online gateway would make sense. After all, most people who want to go beyond the very low Ecocash limits often find refuge in ZIPIT which has pretty generous limits depending on your bank.
I am aware that ZIPIT is quite different from Ecocash which has the benefit of being owned, developed and controlled by a single company thus making it easier to develop certain features. For example, with Ecocash you just have to deal with phone numbers where ZIPIT uses account numbers of varying lengths and flavours.
Below is one way I envisage the gateway operating:
- Only merchants have to sign up for the gateway and they get a merchant code. ZIPIT already have this in place.
- When a user is about to checkout they choose ZIPIT as their preferred method
- A QR code is then generated with an alternative unique reference code below the code. If the user has a banking app they can just scan the QR code to complete payment or
- If the user is using a feature phone they make a payment to the merchant code and enter the unique reference code
- The ZIPIT gateway confirms the payment automatically and the order is completed.
This is all pretty trivial if you ask me and some of the tech is already in place at ZIMSWITCH. Again, I would really prefer it if ZIMSWITCH simply developed a system where people could just enter their bank card numbers and pins just as they would at a physical POS but the ZIPIT workaround would work too. It would do wonders to their brand I am sure and would solve a lot of headaches for local online stores.
Having to manually verify payments in this day and age is just unnecessary pain.