THE Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) says mobile money transactions have in the last few days declined to below 10 percent in the retail sector largely due to depressed EcoCash services.
EcoCash is a mobile money transfer service offered by Zimbabwe's largest telecommunications firm, Econet, with 11,4 million subscribers.
The mobile money transfer platform is housed under Econet's strategic business unit, Cassava SmarTech Zimbabwe.
Last week, Econet announced a planned major upgrade of EcoCash services to improve system availability, user experience, security and long-term capacity issues. However, the planned major system upgrade that was undertaken from 21:00hrs on Saturday to 21:00hrs on Sunday has seen EcoCash services remaining subdued.
Responding to written questions on the impact of subdued EcoCash service on sales by their members, CZR president Mr Denford Mutashu said EcoCash contributes 90 percent of mobile transactions in most formal retail and wholesale trade.
"Mobile transactions have drastically gone down to below 10 percent. Ecocash contributes 90 percent of mobile transactions in most formal retail and wholesale trade," he said.
Since the launch of EcoCash in September 2011, over US$23 billion worth of EcoCash transactions have been recorded, according to Econet. Mr Mutashu said, "The platform grew over the years due to innovativeness and lack of aggressive competition from other players."
Locally, the mobile money transfer service was also being offered by the State-owned telecommunications firm, NetOne and another private mobile network operator, Telecel Zimbabwe.
"It's also high time that Government acts on over-reliance of the people of Zimbabwe on one service provider for anything, goods or services," said Mr Mutashu.
Mobile money transfer service and plastic money have dominated the market due to the prevailing cash shortages in the economy.
A snap survey conducted by Business Chronicle in the Central Business District in Bulawayo on Wednesday and yesterday, showed that major retail outlets had low customer turnout.
At a supermarket along Fife Street, Business Chronicle observed that most of the tills were closed with only three serving clients. This was also the case at another major retail outlet along Jason Moyo Street.
In separate interviews, the till operators who refused to be named citing professional reasons said business has been low since the EcoCash challenge.
"Ever since the challenges that our customers are going through when transacting using EcoCash, we have observed low customer turnout," said a till operator at one of the retail outlets.
Another till operator at another supermarket echoed similar sentiments saying the majority of their customers buy using electronic money or mobile money transfers services.
"Unless and until the EcoCash service is back to normal, our sales volumes will remain depressed because people don't have cash to effect transactions," said the till operator.
In a statement yesterday, Cassava SmarTech Zimbabwe chief executive officer, Mr Eddie Chibi, reassured the public that the process of stabilising the upgraded service was nearly complete and pleaded with subscribers to be patient as work to "optimise" performance of the service was underway.
"We once again would like to thank our valued customers for bearing with us during this critical period in which we are now optimising the various EcoCash services in a live environment," he said.
"The core of our platform is now working quite well, but some work is still continuing on the optimisation of a few components that involve integration to third parties.
"We sincerely apologise to our customers for the inconvenience this may have caused them."
Mr Chibi said their engineers, alongside experts from Comviva, an international platform vendor of the EcoCash service have been on the ground in Zimbabwe for a month, in preparation for the major upgrade.
"They are working around the clock to resolve all outstanding issues," he said.