Small business, small payment, small inconvenience… time to open the e-wallet

Demonetisation could have led to perhaps the biggest push mobile Internet has got in the country

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: November 29, 2016 12:02 pm

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Shahrukh’s voice is laced with a little bit of anger and a little too much of frustration. “Sir, everyone is saying the same thing. How do I do business like this?” I’d just told him I won’t be able to buy my weekly quota of fish as I didn’t have any spare cash and he didn’t have a card reader or even a PayTm wallet.

Shahrukh’s mobile otherwise, diligently taking orders on his phone and delivering the fresh fish within minutes to a certain radius around East Delhi’s Ghazipur market. Given that Delhi’s tryst with fresh seafood is seasonal, this is peak season for him. He just needs to wait another four weeks or so before buyers are flush with cash to tide and ready to buy his pomfrets and sardines. Let’s hope his small business survives that long.

The 30-year-old and a lot of other small businessmen across the country are wondering how exactly they can get people to transact in cash. Some have a bigger problem, given that they deal in items that are price elastic. Certainly, fish is not that big a necessity for you to spend precious cash on it. There are many other products like this — fruits, nuts, sweets, roadside snacks, etc — which you can forgo if you don’t have enough legal tender to buy the same. A few enterprising guys, seeing the business go away, have started switching to Paytm or other mobile wallets to offer their customers an option. One of them told me recently that his issue was ensuring he had enough data all the time to keep it running. Getting an active data plan has started eating into his profits he said. But then it is a ‘minor inconvenience’.

However, there is a larger question here. How do we expect millions of small traders, mom and pop shops and vendors across the country to switch to smartphones and data packs overnight? Yes, India is the fastest growing Internet location in the world, but it will still take the average user some time to understand the web and how it works. There have been no awareness drives towards this effect till Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the nation on Mann ki Baat.

On the bright side, this might be the biggest push mobile Internet has got in the country. Millions of people must now be switching on data packs while others will be upgrading to devices, networks and plans that let them access the web when needed — to make or receive a payment. The opportunity is immense as it will take out all unaccounted transactions from the system, however small they might be.

There is also an opportunity here. Can we get this push towards card/mobile/online payments to negate the requirement for bills and vouchers while corporate claims and tax returns? Afterall, all these payments, however, tiny will start showing against your PAN number. Then there should be no need for us to show these as paper bills at the end of each month to get a tax deduction. The government will know where we have spend the money and that should be enough.