New Delhi: The share of digital mobile phone recharges in India crossed 50% for the first time in 2020 as the pandemic led people to minimise stepping out to stores and instead opt for online transactions, a trend that experts said may continue.

At Reliance Jio, the share of online recharges increased to 50% in the December quarter from 35% in the March quarter, after having touched 60% during the lockdown in the June-ended quarter, according to a senior company executive.

At Bharti Airtel, half of its recharge revenue for all of 2020 came from the digital channel for the first time, a company official said.

Fintech companies including Google Pay and PhonePe, payment gateway CC Avenue and startups such as Niyo and Spice Money said there was a 55-75% surge in mobile recharge transactions.

“We have seen around 55% growth in recharge transactions year on year (Dec 2019 vs Dec 2020),” a PhonePe spokesperson told ET. “We saw a big spike in the recharge category since the country went into lockdown and the spike has continued post-lockdown as well, indicating a permanent change in habits with a lot of people now continuing to recharge online.”

According to Google Pay, the pandemic pushed many first-time users to consider digital payments for frequent transactions such as mobile recharges and bill payments.

“Just one quarter into the pandemic, online searches such as ‘how to pay online’ and ‘UPI’ spiked by over 30% and ‘How to pay electric bill online’ by 180% and we saw a significant surge in these use-cases on Google Pay, confirming this trend,” a Google spokesperson told ET.

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Vishwas Patel, executive director of Infibeam Avenues, which operates CC Avenue, a payment gateway, said transactions on the platform increased 75% between the pre-Covid-19 and post-Covid-19 quarters.

“While the average ticket size of prepaid recharges continues to be the same at Rs 126, for postpaid, it has gone beyond Rs 500 as people buy high-value plans for remote working needs,” Patel said.

As India went into lockdown in March, telcos Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea (Vi) and Bharti Airtel extended the validity of plans for their low-end users and offered cashbacks and commission to users who recharged for family and friends.

PhonePe said these steps helped to push transaction volumes and increase the average recharge size.

“Our average transaction value for recharges went up by 20% year on year. This is largely due to the increased share of unlimited plans seen during the lockdown,” PhonePe said.

Spice Money said there was a 100% growth in recharge transactions and value from the rural and semi-urban areas, which contribute about 80% of its gross recharge transactions by value.

“Between April and December 2020, we witnessed the revenue contribution of rural markets from digital mobile recharges double as compared to the pre-lockdown times. We expect this trend to continue in the coming quarter of FY21,” said Dilip Modi, founder of Spice Money.

Fintech startup Niyo’s flagship brand Niyo Bharat, which caters to 1.8 million blue collared workers, introduced its recharge facility in June and aims to add 800,000 customers by June 2021. Cofounder Vinay Bagri said, “On average, a user spends Rs 350 on mobile recharge in a month.”

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