Though the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in India has had some impact on the ride-hailing and online food ordering segments, it has come as a boon for the e-commerce companies as more people prefer buying goods, especially grocery items, vegetables and other daily needs from online platforms.
According to industry insiders, e-commerce companies such as Flipkart, Amazon, Bigbasket, and Grofers have witnessed about 20-30 per cent spike in orders as customers are avoiding visiting crowded places like malls and supermarkets.
In such an environment, where an increasing number of people are also working from home, these firms are doubling down to bring convenience to customers and win their trust. “In the last two weeks, there has been at least a 25 per cent spike in orders. This has put extra pressure on the delivery network,” said an e-commerce industry executive.
These companies are seeing an increase in demand for products such as fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, flour, rice, and lentils, and personal hygiene items like sanitizers and soaps and household cleaning products. Other products include instant noodles, baby food and Ayurvedic items. “There is even a huge spike in pet food,” said a person.
These trends are similar to the pattern in China, where consumers increasingly relied on the internet to get their daily supplies and other products because of COVID-19, according to experts.
“We have seen a very clear uptick in terms of orders, which have grown by 20-30 per cent compared to last month, and it is picking up pace as more people decide to order online,” said Vipul Parekh, co-founder of Bigbasket, one of the largest online and food grocery stores.
“It is partly driven by new customers coming online because they don’t want to go to the (physical) stores, and there are also existing customers who are stocking up much more products over fears of things running out,” added Parekh.
SoftBank-backed e-commerce company Snapdeal said that the overall order volumes remain strong, with some categories showing fast growth. The sale of masks and hygiene products like sanitizers and hand wash jumped 25X on Snapdeal in the last five days. Over 50 per cent of masks listed for sale on Snapdeal were sold on the day India reported the first suspected case of COVID-19.
Neoprene masks and N95 masks are the top sellers. Customers are also buying home use products like floor cleaners, microfiber dusters, surface cleaning liquids, towel sets and bedsheets, which point towards an increased emphasis on hygiene. “We have witnessed an increase in the purchase of 4G routers as more users equip themselves to work from home,” said Snapdeal. “Products like manicure and pedicure sets are being bought to minimise the need to visit beauty salons.”
MoEngage, an intelligent customer analytics and cross-channel engagement platform, which works with internet first brands said it was also seeing a shift in consumer behaviour because of the outbreak. “Our platform has over 400 million monthly active users and we are certainly seeing an increase in the number of users choosing to shop online instead of visiting supermarkets and stores especially for day-to-day items like grocery,” said Raviteja Dodda, founder and CEO, MoEngage.
E-commerce firms are putting in extra efforts to monitor their supply-chain and delivery network, and have put in place thermal scanners and guns to check the temperature of their staff. Bigbasket said it was ensuring the safety of customers and making sure its employees wear disposable gloves and masks while the grocery crates are wiped down regularly.
It is also monitoring the body temperature of all the delivery executives before and after they deliver products. “It is not just about customer safety, we also want our delivery people to be safe,” said Parekh of Bigbasket. The company is in the process of implementing a ‘no-touch’ option, where customers don’t need to come in direct contact with delivery people, and products can be left at the doorsteps of customers.
“In the last 15 days, the demand for sanitizers has increased by 559 per cent, face mask has increased by 334 per cent, hand wash has increased by 81 per cent, and disposable gloves has increased by 66 per cent,” said Sandip Chhettri, COO, TradeIndia.com, an online business-to-business platform. “Apart from the three major cities (Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru), there has been a surge in demand in cities like Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Gurugram, Surat, Pune and Srinagar,” said Chhettri.
“This is a golden opportunity for the e-commerce industry to build trust with customers as ordering on platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart and Bigbasket is becoming a lifeline for them,” said an e-commerce industry executive. “Suppose there is a lockdown because of COVID-19, e-commerce firms are more than willing to partner with the government and provide essential commodities to the people in a safe manner,” said the person.
While there is a spike of products on online retail platforms, other consumer internet companies such as ride-hailing firms including Ola and Uber are witnessing 40-50 per cent drop in rides in major cities as fewer number of employees are commuting to offices, according to sources. What is also contributing to this drop is that there is a user perception about hygiene issues, as they think the taxis might have been used by international travellers.