Covid-19: Grocery startups in MENA witness big surge in online orders as people stay indoors due to Coronavirus

Coronavirus has changed the world we are living in (for now at least). It has made its way to about 180 countries, infecting hundreds of thousands and killing thousands across the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted businesses all around the world.

With factories halting production, retailers closing their doors, and airlines grounding their planes, thousands of businesses around the world have already lost billions of dollars. Some estimates suggest that it could cost the global economy $1 trillion in 2020.

But there are also some businesses that are thriving because of Coronavirus, online grocery startups being one of them. As people stay indoors, they are relying on grocery apps to order their groceries online, all across the Middle East & North Africa.

Multiple-fold increase in business

Nana, a Saudi grocery delivery startup that closed $6.6 million in a Series A round late last year has been witnessing multiple-fold increase with up to triple the number of orders that they normally see during peak times of the month, Nana’s Chief Growth Officer Karim Ebeid told MENAbytes, “We expect demand to increase even further when people get their salaries towards the end of the month.”

Karim had shared these remarks before the Saudi government announced an evening curfew (7 pm to 6 am) for three weeks.

GetBaqala, a Bahrain-based grocery delivery startup has also seen a major increase in the business, “We are seeing almost double the size of the business since last week of February,” Amjad Puliyali, the co-founder and CEO of GetBaqala told MENAbytes. Bahrain hasn’t imposed a curfew yet but has banned public gatherings of more than five individuals. It has also closed all the retail stores for two weeks but supermarkets, hypermarkets, cold stores, and banks remain open.

Egypt, where 19 people have died due to Coronavirus and over 350 have been infected with the virus, the government has shut down malls, restaurants, coffee shops and nightclubs overnight (7 pm to 6 am) from March 19 until March 31. The supermarkets, pharmacies and bakeries remain open but many are following social distancing guidelines and have restricted themselves to homes.

GoodsMart, one of the leading grocery startups of Egypt, that has been offering contactless delivery experience since its inception is witnessing a big increase in both new clients and the number of orders from their existing customers, “The increase has been drastic lately, it almost tripled in terms of the order as everyone is currently looking for the contactless experience,” Amr Fawzi, the founder and CEO of GoodsMart told MENAbytes.

Oman, where the total number of Covid-19 cases is less than 100, people are still self-isolating themselves and trying to stay indoors. MarkeetEx, a marketplace and grocery delivery startup from Oman that recently announced the closing of its $1 million seed round has seen its orders increase by over 350 percent on a week-over-week basis, MarkeetEx’s co-founder Sharifa Albarami revealed in a conversation with MENAbytes.

Pakistani grocery delivery startup GrocerApp that operates in Lahore is also witnessing a massive surge in orders. In just a matter of three days, our orders have grown over 100 percent, GrocerApp’s founder and CEO Ahmad Saeed told MENAbytes. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has exceeded 850 and seven Covid-19 patients have died. The government is encouraging people to stay in their homes and observe self-isolation.

The biggest increase, however, is being witnessed by Basket, a Jordanian grocery delivery startup. Basket’s founder Omar Akel, in a conversation with MENAbytes has claimed that they’re seeing an eight-times increase in the business. Jordan was the first (and remains the only) country of the region to impose a round-the-clock curfew for an indefinite period. People are allowed to get out of their homes on in case of emergency so many now have no option but to rely on delivery services.

The Tunisian ride-hailing startup IntiGo that temporarily pivoted to offer different delivery services told MENAbytes that about 80 percent of the orders it receives are grocery orders.

Almost all these startups have also reported an increase in the average basket size. Bahrain’s GetBaqala is seeing a 100 percent increase, Amman-based Basket 25 percent, Omani startup MarkeetEx 27 percent, and GoodsMart in Egypt has seen its basket size increase by three times and had to put a limit on number of items that can be purchased per product.

How are they dealing with the increase in demand

These are unprecedented times for everyone. For grocery startups of the region, the increase in demand is obviously a good problem to have. It is something they were not prepared for but they’re quickly adapting.

GoodsMart that sells groceries in Cairo is securing deals with new suppliers so its stock won’t face any shortage. They are also limiting the number of items allowed to be purchased per product to ten. The most important part, however, GoodsMart’s CEO said, is being played by its client care team that is working round the clock to help guide both existing and new customers.

Lahore-based GrocerApp is extensively investing in its supply chain, “We have already ordered more rickshaws (our prime delivery vehicle) and are hiring additional fulfillment center and logistics staff to make sure we dispatch orders on time. We have canceled leaves for all staff (including management) and even on Sunday full company was working to make sure that we deliver orders on time,” said Ahmad Saeed, speaking to MENAbytes.

They are also working brands and manufacturers to make sure that their products don’t run out of shelves and they dont go out of stock.

Saudi’s Nana has also doubled its supply and the number of customer care agents. They’re also providing incentives to their drivers. GetBaqala in Bahrain in ensuring that there is enough supply in its system by working with its partners including retailers, wholesalers, and distributors. Amman-based Basket that follows InstaCart’s model has plans to onboard thousands of shoppers to work and fulfill the order. Oman-based MarkeetEx is expanding its fulfillment and delivery teams.

Ensuring health & safety of the customers

All the grocery startups that spoke with are taking measures to ensure the health and safety of their customers and staff is not compromised. Bahrain’s GetBaqala has briefed all its team members comprehensively about the situation, potential repercussions, and the significance of enhanced hygiene without negligence.

GetBaqala’s CEO Amjad told MENAbytes that they’re also providing their drivers and shoppers with hand sanitizers and protective gear such as masks and gloves to be used. He also said that all their vehicles and fulfillment centers are sanitized on a daily basis.

Cairo-based GoodsMart claims that all of its products are sanitized to ensure the safety of the customers.

“The warehouse follows a strict hygienic guideline. All of the products that come into the warehouse are properly sanitized according to the World Health Organization protocol. The staff that handles the products wear gloves and masks around the clock leaving no place for contamination to occur,” Amr, the CEO of GoodsMart told MENAbytes.

MarkeetEx in Oman said that all of their staff wear masks, change hand disposable gloves every three hours and wash their hands once every hour.

The shoppers and couriers of Saudi’s Nana and Bakset in Jordan also wear gloves and masks. Nana has also stopped cash payment to make their service ‘as contactless as possible’.

Providing relief

The startups we have been speaking with are also trying to find ways to provide relief to their customers. MarkeetEx, in Oman, that doesn’t charge a delivery fee, for example, is offering express delivery to quarantined individuals by assigning a separate logistics team to cater to them.

Pakistani startup GrocerApp that also provides free delivery for orders $7.5 wants to pass on the benefits to its staff, “We believe that in this dire time, the most deserving are the people working in fulfillment center and logistics. They are working tirelessly to make sure that we keep on delivering supplies. Their commitment is unparalleled and the risk they are bearing to deliver these orders is just unbelievable,” noted Ahmad.

Cairo-based GoodsMart said that it is adding new products to its app to help ease the stress of its customers, “We’ve partnered with different players to add new things in our categories, such as family games to entertain our clients and encourage them to stay safely at home. We have also added an option for gifts so people can buy them directly from the app and continue practicing social distancing,” said Amr.

Nana is offering one free delivery to all its users. Basket offered free delivery for a while but then had to stop it due to huge demand.

GetBaqala said that they have a relaxed delivery fee and no minimum order policy already, “We don’t charge any delivery fee if your order is above 5 BD ($13) and there’s no minimum order value. If the order value is less than 5 BD, we charge a nominal delivery fee .500 fills ($1.3).

Going forward

Each one of us including the founders and teams of these grocery startups is hoping that we contain this disease before it infects and kills more people. No one knows how long would it take but one thing that’s certain is the fact that it is temporary. The world will go back to normal one day but by then it is very likely that different habits of many of us would be changed forever.

This growth experienced by most of the startups might be temporary but it is helping change the habits of people. One of the most difficult things for any grocery startup to do is to get people to trust them and use their service. Covid-19 has done that.

What remains to be seen now is how many of these startups are able to retain the new users they’ve acquired due to this pandemic.

Note: We reached out to different grocery startups in the United Arab Emirates for this piece but unfortunately, no one of them got back to us with the feedback. 

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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