Online retailers gear up for doorstep delivery as Bangladesh braces for COVID-19 winter wave

  • Sajidul Haque, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-10-16 23:47:56 BdST

The internet became a destination of choice for grocery shopping during the coronavirus-forced lockdown a few months ago. With the shutdown well behind them, scores of people in Bangladesh still prefer to buy daily necessities and other stuff from the comfort and safety of the home at the touch of a button.

The biggest names in Bangladesh’s online retail business setting have nearly overcome the hurdles to supply their consumers with their desired products and are now taking steps to expand their services as the winter approaches.

Fayez Ahmed, a businessman residing in Dhanmondi, relied on online shopping to purchase his daily needs during the countrywide lockdown. Although the lockdown was lifted and the restrictions are eased, Fayez still chooses to go online to make purchases.

With experts predicting a possible resurgence of coronavirus infection in the winter, Fayez is hoping that the online services would be well equipped to deliver orders to his doorstep in time.

“I am not going to the market to avoid crowds, and will not for many more days to come. So, I am depending on the online shops. I had a lot of trouble with them during the lockdown. I hope the online shops will take preparations beforehand in case the situation deteriorates in the coming winter,” Fayez said.

“[During the lockdown] a product would reach me long after I made an order. I didn’t get proper service,” he added.

And that was generally the case as the shops largely struggled to complete deliveries amid a deluge of orders thanks to the pandemic-driven shopping boom.

People in Dhaka have become used to shopping online after relying on it through the lockdown.

People in Dhaka have become used to shopping online after relying on it through the lockdown.

Long waiting times for any order was accompanied by issues such as trouble ordering on websites and not getting desired products.

The officials with these online retailers admitted to their shortcomings, pointing out that they could not keep up with the sudden surge in demand largely due to them being understaffed and the limited capacity of their servers.

That period of struggle, the shop representatives said, were also lessons for them to equip accordingly for such a boom.

The novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than a million people worldwide after emerging in China’s Wuhan in December last year.

In Bangladesh, the first case was identified in March and now the death toll is beyond 5,500 accompanied by more than 381,000 reported cases of infection, according to government data.

Besides shopping for daily needs, ordering food online has seen a dramatic rise.

Besides shopping for daily needs, ordering food online has seen a dramatic rise.

Meanwhile, Europe is already witnessing a spike in cases with the arrival of the ‘second wave’ of the outbreak while experts have red flags raised for some time projecting an intensification of the outbreak at the onset of winter.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, too, called upon the authorities to prepare well, both financially and logistically, for the winter while speaking at a ceremony recently.

Looking back, Chaldal.com, the country’s leading online destination for daily needs, made improvements by increasing both their stocks and staff. It is also considering making deliveries outside Dhaka.

“In March, when the first coronavirus case was detected (here), we would get 2,500-3,000 orders daily. The number jumped to 16,000 when the lockdown began. Naturally, problems emerged,” said Zia Ashraf, the chief operating officer and a founder of Chaldal.com.

The online shops had faced a lot of trouble keeping up with a soaring number of orders during the lockdown in April, 2020.

The online shops had faced a lot of trouble keeping up with a soaring number of orders during the lockdown in April, 2020.

“But we’re now delivering from 14 warehouses as opposed to seven. On top of that we’re now capable of delivering 10,000 orders every day.”

“We have raised our capacity taking lessons from the lockdown experience. When we started, there was no one else in the online grocery business. But now many others have entered the ring. The others are gradually building capacity as well.”

Supershop Shwapno began their online foray during the lockdown.

“Initially, we provided online services from six stores. As the outbreak intensified, we began incorporating more stores. The online orders are going up and now we’ve 32 stores to serve our online customers,” said Sabbir Hasan Nasir, the executive director of Shwapno.

Many faced issues ordering their products online during the lockdown.

Many faced issues ordering their products online during the lockdown.

“So we are ready for the approaching winter. Additionally we’ve connected with other online services including Foodpanda and Pathao (delivery services) to serve our customers best.

“All those problems we all faced during the initial stages of the outbreak we’ve overcome in this new normal. We’re arming ourselves with more manpower, stores and better technological infrastructure.”

Similarly, Shaheen Khan, the chief executive of supershop Meena Bazar and Meena Click -- its online offshoot, spoke of changes forced by the nationwide virtual shutdown, such as developing a better website and taking orders by phone. Meena Bazar has also set up a central call centre to take orders.

“Actually the online grocery business was not so big before the lockdown. It’s not that we did it very seriously either. But now we are prepared if the situation in future, particularly in winter, demands it,” Shaheen said.