Everybody likes a good bargain. Call it the Indian psyche, but we are a bunch of bargain hunters and an extra something always makes us happy. Little wonder then that sites that allow you to recharge or pay your mobile bills and offer you coupons of the same value have gained immense popularity. There are plenty of such sites around with the help of which you can pay/recharge your mobile, data card and even DTH bills. But as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and these sites mean business. While on one hand they serve the customers by providing them with an easy option to pay their bills and reward them with coupons, on the other hand, they provide the retailers with a customer base that is looking for such deals. We take a look at what facilitated the rise of such sites, the process, and what customers should expect.

Business Model

Why phone recharge, you wonder? India has over 800 million mobile subscribers, with the number expected to touch 1 billion by 2013. Out of this, pre-paid connections form the majority, so providing mobile recharge is quite a lucrative business proposition. Increasingly, the consumers are opting for online alternatives to recharge their mobiles over the traditional methods. As Kunal Shah, co-founder & CEO, Accelyst Solutions, parent company of FreeCharge.in, puts it, “We started off thinking of this concept in our minds to become an effective media channel for retailers to acquire new customers. So we thought of going after the largest selling product, which is recharge, and work towards making it free. We thought that we should be able to get decent traction and convert a lot of these customers to transact with our merchant partners. So FreeCharge was created to be able to create a relevant medium where foot falls can be created and can become a performance marketing engine as opposed to an advertising engine.”

Freecharge.in has great discounts

Freecharge.in has great discounts

Something for Everyone

One may often wonder that when almost all the major telecom operators have online payment options on their respective sites, why would they also be present on sites like these? The answer is that they see it as just another platform to serve their customers. They already have offline partners who sell their recharge, plus they have tie-ups with leading banks that allow users to pay their bills. As Kunal points out, “Operators are mandated to grow the number of transactions as opposed to controlling all the transactions on their site. And the fact remains that 99.9% business comes from the resellers, as opposed to their own site. 

So their clear objective is to always drive transactions irrespective of the medium of transactions. On the other hand, when it comes to the retailers, they can now target interested customers. If they were to give coupons away in the open market, then they may not get traction, but when they provide coupons to transacting customers, it may actually convert into footfalls for them. Now they could sign-up with operators individually or they can work on a platform like ours where we have brought all these operators anyway. So we are a three-way platform where we bring the operators, merchants and customers together.”

A Fair Bargain?

You will have to sign-up with these sites to use their services. You then key in your mobile number, operator details, amount to be recharged, select the coupons of the equal amount and make the payment. As simple as it may sound, that’s not always the case. When it comes to making payments for your post-paid number or even your DTH, it’s fairly simple, but when it comes to recharging your pre-paid mobile service, you will know the plethora of plans out there; some may provide you additional free SMS or free data download or even extended validity. How do you then decide which one to choose?

Taking this into account, a few of these online recharge sites have taken care to provide up-to-date plan details. Harinder Takhar, CEO of Paytm, which was launched in response to consumers shift towards e-commerce, elaborates, “If you think about how an operator has channeled its different offerings, it is pretty complicated. For instance, if you were to go for a thirty-rupee recharge, then you may have two options; one that will give you additional data download or the other that may provide extra validity.

When it's time to pay up

When it's time to pay up

And if you were to walk to a local shop to get the recharge done, then chances are you would never be made aware of these options. It’s very difficult for a customer to get all this information, so by allowing our users to see this information on our site, we have created greater transparency. This not only helps the consumer, but also helps the operator to upsell. We help the user to get the maximum value out of what the operator has to offer. So on our website, whenever the user enters their cell phone number, the site automatically detects the operator and the circle. Then depending on that, we show them the popular recharges. And we make sure that that data is always up-to-date. In addition to that, we also figure out the most popular ones and highlight them in a bubble.”

Another important issue is that of trust. The free coupons are fine, but what if the transaction fails? Who does the customer turn to? Both Kunal and Harinder agree that trust is an important factor and one that can be a deterrent to their business model. Kunal speaks about how difficult it was to gain customer trust when they began, as people most likely thought of such services as scams, but he is quick to point out that it has been the case with e-commerce industry as whole.

He laments, “When you offer something for free, people tend to think that it must be a scam. So one of the challenges we faced initially was that people thought this doesn’t look for real and that it must be a scam. But what really helped in the last one and half years was that the early adopters who did transactions, got coupons, their experiences went viral and the word of mouth brought in more customers. Also, in the past, people believed that it was unsafe to do transactions online and there were trust issues, but today RBI has in place strict authentication process that has made the transactions really secure.”

What has also helped these sites gain trust is responsive customer support, which Harinder places a lot of importance on. He says, “In the online world, there is no real face and very often people will be stuck with sites that give them some sort of cryptic error or there may be no way for you to reach the website. We actually take extreme care to make sure that the user is always aware of what is going on, and we keep them updated with SMS, email, etc. If the user comes to us for a recharge or a post-paid bill payment, we will do everything to make sure that it happens. We will do all sorts of optimizations to make sure that the user’s money is safe and in case of a failed transaction, we are very responsive to the end user. We reply to the queries whether it is posted on our Facebook wall, Twitter, blog or direct email. We believe that trust is fundamentally the onus of the merchant to earn from the end user.”

Fine Print

The fact that you get back every penny you spend on recharges, albeit in the form of coupons, has gained a lot of popularity amongst consumers, but there are also those who air their dissent mainly due to the types of coupons available. If you were to browse the popular recharge sites to see the kinds of coupons offered, then you will find that a vast majority of them belong to e-commerce sites. Often, the amount of discount is applicable only when you make a purchase for a specified amount and you can use only one coupon per transaction. Also, when selecting the coupons, read the terms and conditions and most importantly the validity period.

Some sites also offer a bunch of offline local deals on restaurants, cafes, travel deals, etc. You will actually benefit from these deals if you are a regular customer of the said merchants. However, it’s not imperative that you opt for coupons and the choice is totally yours. You can simply use these sites to pay your bills without bothering about coupons. Even then, keep in mind that most of these sites will charge you an average of Rs 10 either as coupon delivery charges or as a convenience charge.

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