There have been several reports over the last few weeks that there is a shortage of airtime scratch cards. This might not be a big deal for some because the “route one” way to buy airtime these days is through mobile banking and USSD.
More so with the advent of the pandemic. People are more likely going to buy airtime at home than seek out scratch cards. However, if you want to skirt some transaction charges, buying airtime using a scratch card is the way to go.
The only downside is that you’ll most likely have to buy the scratch cards using cash. It wouldn’t make any sense to pay via EcoCash or OneMoney for a scratch card when you could do that operation seamlessly via mobile money.
That being said, cash is in short supply, even local currency and I doubt anyone would want to use it for something like buying airtime. The shortage of airtime scratch cards might be a materials supply issue. The pandemic has made it difficult for companies to access certain components because of depressed output caused by lockdowns the world over.
This might be the reason why scratch cards have been scarce. However, there have been some developments over the years that have made scratch cards somewhat redundant in Zimbabwe.
Why would MNOs phase-out airtime scratch cards?
There are a few reasons why mobile network operators would phase out airtime scratch cards.
The first is obviously the cost to produce them, the materials that needed to make scratch cards are costly when the cost of airtime is factored in. This is also made worse by the fact that resellers buy them in bulk and at a discount. All this might no longer be an appealing prospect for the MNOs.
Next is obviously the waste they create. Those of a certain age will remember when the streets of Harare were littered with used scratch cards. I am a big advocate for sustainability, so if this is one of the reasons why MNOs want to phase them out, then I am for it.
Thirdly, and as mentioned earlier, most people buy their airtime via mobile money, banks or third-party services. This avenue is a double edge sword because the customer gets convenience while the operators can attach a charge.
Some banks for example have a fee specifically for airtime purchases made using an account. And I don’t think I should say anything about mobile money transaction charges because we could be here a while. The bottom line is there is quite a bit of money to be made these days off transaction fees.
After all, mobile penetration according to the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority’s (POTRAZ) Q1 2020 report is at 90.5%. Meaning if almost everyone has a phone they will most likely have mobile money or bank account (seeing as financial institutions are making them easier to open).
Lastly, airtime scratch cards can be a problem for mobile network operators. If you remember last year, there was a scratch card scandal at NetOne. Employees of the second largest MNO were, according to a report by CITE, diverting prepaid recharges cards to the black market where they were being sold in foreign currency.
While we are talking about NetOne, the company launched a service for airtime merchants last year through its *519# USSD.
In closing, the reasons for the scratch card shortage are yet to be known. But it wouldn’t be surprising if they’re going the way of the Dodo.