Telcos Expect 10-15% Fall In Recharge Volumes On COVID Restrictions


Mobile phone companies expect a 10-15 per cent reduction in physical recharge volumes with COVID-induced restrictions imposed in several states, as more and more customers refuse to step out to physically recharge their phones.

The prepaid rechargers, who form the bulk of the Indian customer base, get most impacted when offline retail shops down their shutters. This specially impacts those who opt for small ticket recharges.

“Offline recharges have almost died out since Corona started last year, but we are dependent on online SIM deliveries now,” said a Vodafone Idea Mini Store owner in North Delhi.

He added that mostly SIM orders are directed by the telco as per the requests received in different geographies while retailers are unable to gather customers by selling SIM cards from the store.

But telcos Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) say the impact of the restrictions will be limited since their sector comes under essential service providers. They added that the restrictions will further push digital recharges to 70-75 per cent over the next few weeks, from about 60 per cent at present.

“Telcos come under essential services, which are allowed to remain open but in many areas in Mumbai and Delhi, shops are shutting down. This will reflect in a 10-15  per cent drop but we should see an uptick in digital recharges,” said a senior executive in one of the three telcos.

Additional steps are being taken to ensure subscribers remain unaffected.

“We are ensuring our customers are not inconvenienced and offer a range of convenient online and offline platforms to recharge and pay bills,” said an Airtel spokesperson.

The telco with 307.9 million subscribers said it has Airtel Thanks app which enables single click recharges and has introduced innovations such as Ask-a-Friend to Recharge and Airtel Superstar program that allows entrepreneurs to recharge and earn a commission. “For the less digital savvy users, we have enabled recharges at ATMs and Pharmacies,” the spokesperson added.

Jio, with 410.8 million customers,and Vodafone Idea with 269.8 million customers did not respond to ET’s queries.

Before Covid-19 hit India, 35 per cent of a telco’srecharges were processed digitally. But after pandemic, there has been a major shift in the recharge patterns.

On Monday, New Delhi announced a week-long lockdown. Rajasthan too has imposed a 15-day lockdown, Allahabad High Court has ordered for a lockdown in some cities of Uttar Pradesh and reports state that Maharashtra may bring in more severe lockdown measures as COVID-19 numbers refuse to let up.

“This time we are more prepared since customers have already started digitally recharging their phones and also peer to peer reference schemes that were launched last year are still in use,” said another executive working for a rival telco.

Last year when India went into lockdown in March, Jio, Airtel and Vi extended the validity of plans for their low-end users and offered cashbacks and commission to users who recharged for family and friends.

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