While other businesses struggled to thrive, online deliveries saw huge business opportunities this pandemic
KATHMANDU, May 4: The invasion of COVID-19 in the whole-wide world contributed to a significant increase in the use of technology. It was only the online platforms where one could avoid physical contact but remain connected. This new normal forced markets to shut down which gave huge business opportunities to online delivery firms.
It is evident that not only the people who were already tech savvy put technology to an utmost use but also people with mediocre knowledge took to the platform simply to survive and fit to the new normal. This pushed the people to turn to online delivery services - the best option to maintain social distancing among humans and yet get the services.
If there were no online shopping, Lakpa Sherpa, a graduate hailing from Bauddha, Kathmandu, would have never been able to buy a gift, get it delivered safely and present it to his parents on their 31st wedding anniversary at a time when the shopping malls were closed and markets were collapsing due to the lockdown imposed to curb further spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus.
While most of the businesses struggled to survive this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, online delivery businesses are among the few that thrived and flourished in the extraordinary time. The pandemic had created a new distance between the market and the customers; it was the online platforms that brought them together.
“I am obsessed with shopping but the COVID-19 situation does not make me think twice about going online,” Sherpa said. “Online shopping is safe, helps you maintain social distancing and curb the further spread of COVID-19,” he added.
Within the stillness the COVID-19 pandemic caused across the globe, if there is anything that accelerated through the limit, it would be online delivery businesses. Even physical stores resorted to online deliveries as the only way to keep their businesses going. Online stores and firms like Daraz, Sastodeal, Metro Tarkari, Foodmandu and Cheers Enterprises are among few such businesses that saw new opportunities amid the new normal in this pandemic.
“The lockdown period was the best pick up time for us,” recalls Malati Mahat, operation manager at Metrotarkari, an online grocery store. “People were not allowed to venture outdoors but had to eat. We delivered tons of vegetables and other groceries door to door to our customers,” she added.
Shyam Ratna Mali, head of brand, market and sales at Foodmandu, an online food delivery service, also keeps the same view. “The lockdown was the best opportunity for us. We did not have to close our service. We were functioning throughout the time even in a better shape,” he said.
The government had imposed a nationwide lockdown for the first time on March 24, 2020 that lasted more than four months in the view of curbing spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) forcing all kinds of business to remain closed. Companies providing online delivery services were a much-needed support system during that period.
“We were thrilled to get orders to deliver vegetables and groceries from Nepali migrant workers in Australia, Europe and Gulf countries to their families here in Nepal,” said Anil Basnet, founding CEO of Metro Tarkari.
“Even if the lockdown has been lifted and life is moving back to normal, those conscious of social distancing and COVID-19 situations are still found preferring online shopping to visiting stores,” Mahat said.
Most online delivery companies deliver goods free of cost within the Kathmandu Valley. They charge a few hundred rupees as delivery charge if they have to deliver goods outside the valley.
While other businesses are largely hit by the pandemic, online delivery companies are witnessing a slow but steady growth. “We are witnessing a rise in the number of our partnership restaurants and orders daily. The volume of our business is growing despite the pandemic,” Mali said. “We also shifted from food delivery service to grocery delivery service during the lockdown. We are soon to launch a full time grocery delivery service as well. Who would have imagined a few years ago, people ordering vegetables online and getting it delivered at their door steps.”
Like Foodmandu, Metrotarkari also witnessed straight growth in their business during lockdown and the pandemic. “On average, we used to get 40 to 50 orders a day which rose to 400 to 500 a day after pandemic,” said Basnet. “Our growth is more than 100 percent,” he added.
In recent years, online delivery firms have boomed in Nepal. However, customers are usually found cheated and unsatisfied with the service due to the lack of proper regulations. There is a lack of clear regulation regarding insurance protection for delivery staff, bearing the liability of damaged goods, charges and billing, return and refund issues in Nepal. E-commerce firms simply maintain that they are not liable to customers for delivering damaged or incorrect goods.
“There are no clear regulations regarding the operation of online businesses in Nepal which is making it difficult in monitoring such businesses,” said Shiva Sena, Director and spokesperson at the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection. “The department had submitted a draft of a new Electronic Business Act to the Ministry of Industries, Commerce and Supplies last year but is yet to come into effect,” he added.
The draft is expected to cover issues such as registration procedure, agreement of e-commerce firms with companies, renewal, damages and compensation, return and refund, among other issues. Currently, there is a provision of registering online businesses at the local government.
“The online delivery businesses boomed during the lockdown and were very active. Despite the lack of clear regulations, we did our best to monitor and regulate such businesses,” Sen maintained.
“The government should introduce clear regulations to monitor online businesses and protect the consumers’ rights in Nepal. There are only a few registered online delivery companies in Nepal,” said Basnet. “Most of such businesses are being operated from home using facebook and other platforms which has increased the number of fraud and questioned the reliability of online businesses,” he added.