E-commerce firms scale up operations as online shopping surgesMore consumers are expected to shop online at a higher frequency following the rapid spread rate of Omicron, insiders say.
E-commerce companies are scaling up operations to keep up with escalating demand for their services as the Omicron caseload explodes.
The third wave of the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce as consumers scurry indoors and turn to online sellers for their needs.
Industry insiders say that more consumers are expected to shop online at a higher frequency following the rapid spread rate of Omicron.
E-commerce companies are focusing on the supply side, managing logistics and even hiring more delivery staff to fill a swelling tide of orders.
According to reports, Omicron, a highly contagious variant of the SARS-COV-2, is responsible for 88 percent of coronavirus infections in Nepal.
Covid-19 cases in Nepal saw an exponential surge in January.
On Sunday, Nepal recorded 10,319 fresh coronavirus cases, taking the total number of active cases to 82,550, according to the Health Ministry.
“It has been around a week that online demand for goods has surged by around 20 percent following a rise in the Omicron caseload,” said Surakchya Adhikari, chief operating officer and co-founder of online supermarket Thulo.com.
“As health experts say that the infection rate will reach a peak at the start of February, we are expecting a rise in demand,” Adhikari said.
E-commerce entrepreneurs are hopeful that this time there will be no hassles from the government side while delivering goods as during the first and second lockdowns.
Nischal Niroula, co-founder of Doormeet.com, said that in the last 15 days online demand for goods had increased by 25 percent.
"The government has clearly stated that vehicles carrying essential goods can disregard the odd-even number plate rule," Adhikari said.
But Niroula suspects that there will be problems in delivery with the government implementing the odd-even rule. “There will be problems in logistics when the odd-even rule is implemented,” he said.
Sagar Dev Bhatta, founder of Merokirana.com, said that consumer buying behaviour started changing with the arrival of the Omicron variant. “Sales have started increasing,” he said.
E-commerce is observing an increase in demand for fast-moving consumer goods and grocery items followed by goods related to health and wellness and consumer electronic goods.
“Online demand for face masks and sanitisers has risen in recent days,” said Adhikari, adding that demand for packaged foods such as biscuits, wafers and snacks that have a long shelf-life had increased massively in a short time. "It seems that people are stocking up on these goods, and demand will grow in the coming days," she said.
Bhatta said that online demand for rapid antigen testing kits had also increased in recent times.
Online store Doormeet.com is observing a steep rise in demand for books and grocery items. “Customers who were placing orders for 1 kg of food items are now ordering 5 kg of food, and our delivery volume has swelled,” Niroula said.
“Demand for rice, lentils and legumes, spices, salt and sugar has increased. It seems that people are stocking up on food items as the volume of orders has increased,” Niroula said.
E-commerce entrepreneurs say they have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic that e-commerce is safe and reliable for home delivery of goods by maintaining social distance.
Customers trust e-commerce to safely deliver all their goods as per their respective needs. E-commerce entrepreneurs say that they are following safety measures and government guidelines when dealing with vendors to serve their customers during these unprecedented times.
Seeing the pandemic situation getting worse by the day, e-commerce platforms have streamlined their business strategy and augmented their supply chain and logistics to address the rise in demand.
“We are planning to stock goods that are receiving a large number of online orders and are coordinating with suppliers,” Adhikari said. In terms of logistics, the government has said that it will not put any restrictions on vehicles carrying essential goods and Thulo.com is planning to add delivery vans amid the rising demand.
As the infection is spreading at a rapid pace, there are high chances of delivery staff or any other staff in the company getting infected, so e-commerce firms are planning to hire temporary employees so that administration and delivery function smoothly.
“We are planning to hire extra people so that day-to-day work does not get disrupted,” Adhikari said.
“We are following safety protocols while delivering goods, and we are encouraging digital payment by providing schemes and offers,” said Adhikari.
Suspecting a possible lockdown amid the increasing Omicron caseload, Doormeet.com has also started making preparations in terms of supply and logistics so that supply of essential goods functions smoothly.
“We are planning to hire additional delivery staff temporarily, and also manage things so that administrative staff can work from home,” Niroula said.
Doormeet.com has also started storing goods in their warehouse to meet demand.
“We do not plan to cut salaries or lay off our staff even if a lockdown is imposed,” Niroula said.
Bhatta, who is also president of the E-Business Association of Nepal, said that chief district officers seem positive regarding the operation of e-commerce citing recent talks with them.
“We have been following health safety protocols strictly and promoting digital payments so we hope that there are less chances of our staff getting exposed to the virus,” Bhatta said.