Retailers overwhelmed by surge in online orders for essential items

The unprecedented volume of online orders at major grocers and supermarket chains in Ho Chi Minh City due to the public’s concern over COVID-19 has resulted in cancellations and long delays in delivery.

“I called the supermarket’s customer hotline for online ordering early in the morning and received a reply … at noon they were out of stock,” said Tran Thi Mai, who lives in Binh Khanh Apartment in Thu Duc City.

Many major grocery stores and supermarkets near her apartment were temporarily closed due to local cases of infection, making stores that were open more crowded, she said.

As it was impossible to order online, she had to shop for groceries at noon to avoid crowds, she said.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thao of District 11 ordered fresh vegetables, fruits and food online from a supermarket near her house, and was told they would be delivered only the next day.

Retailers said they were racing to add online shopping and ramping up staff for home delivery services amidst the continuing lockdown and strict social distancing requirements, but admitted it was still a tall order since there was a 300%-600% spike in online shopping.

The sales director of an e-commerce platform said the pandemic had accelerated the shift in retailing from offline to online.

Fast delivery within two to four hours was a vital part of online orders for groceries and fresh vegetables, fruits and food, but the boom in online grocery was precluding that, he said.

In HCM City, traditional markets account for 60%-70% of retail sales of agricultural produce, food and foodstuffs consumed.

Ninety-three out of its 234 traditional markets are temporarily closed to combat the outbreak.

The city’s Department of Industry and Trade said the volume of goods delivered to the three wholesale markets still open in the city was less than 4,600 tonnes on July 1, 11 percent down from normal.

The prices of vegetables, fruits and seafood sold at traditional markets like Thi Nghe and Ba Chieu markets in Binh Thanh District and Tan Dinh market in District 1 rose by 5%-25% compared to a week earlier.

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In the fierce competition in the online food ordering market, worth $33 million as estimated by Euromonitor, players need to have good technology but also many delivery people to win.