Anita runs an online business that sells cosmetics and clothing items at a reasonable price.
After launching in mid-2019 she became quickly popular, until she hit a snag with reliably delivering her products to customers.
She did not have enough capital to employ a renowned delivery company and instead relied on a newly launched delivery company. This delivery company performed fine at first, but failed utterly as soon as the pandemic began.
Anita's phone rang off the hook - customers received damaged products, products arrived late, and the delivery people misbehaved.
When she complained to the company, Anita always received empty promises instead of a refund.
This was a fairly common story for most e-commerce and F-commerce entrepreneurs last year. The whole industry struggled to cope with the overnight spike in delivery orders.
For consumers, ordering online - even essentials like groceries - meant hours of waiting to get the order through on the website, days of waiting for the orders to arrive, and then often receiving wrong products, damaged products or no products at all.
As the government ordered a new round of lockdowns earlier this month, there was reason to fear that the horrors of last year, in terms of delivery failures, would be revisited. However, to many people's surprise, online stories, delivery companies and even brick and mortar establishments appear to have taken the lessons from last year to heart and made changes to cope with the pandemic world.
Some have expanded their capacity to deliver by investing in manpower and reach, while others have invested in transportation. More and more traditional stores are building their own capacity to deliver goods to customers' homes.
Pandemic prompts expansions
The delivery service industry has been changed forever by the ongoing pandemic .
From logistic delivery companies, to food delivery companies, to chain grocery stores, every platform has modified its strategy to expand.
Renowned on-demand digital platforms such as Foodpanda and Pathao also incorporated changes and new strategies to their services by introducing door-to-door delivery service for groceries and essential items.
Super shops or chain grocery stores such as Agora also introduced home delivery services to make ends meet.
Delivery services owned by logistic companies are processing and delivering twice as much products compared to last year. To facilitate this spike, delivery companies have recruited more delivery agents, added more vehicles and warehouses to their fleet and even provided residential support to the delivery agents.
E-commerce association leaders say that in the eight months starting from March last year, e-commerce companies' sales crossed Tk16,000 crore. It saw a growth of 80 percent last year.
"The number of online orders has radically changed and so has the pattern," says Biplob Ghosh Rahul, the chief executive officer of eCourier Limited.
"People are purchasing everything online - from home appliances to tube wells. The number has further increased as people in rural areas are also becoming accustomed with online shopping, which was quite unconventional even a year ago," he added.
Currently, eCourier is receiving approximately double the amount of orders in comparison to last year. To meet the customers' needs, eCourier has modified its delivery system. Now, the company is delivering products mostly via pickup vans instead of bicycles and bikes.
Around 600 delivery agents are now working with eCourier and more people are joining the team. Every day, the company processes around 24,000 orders and distributes 20,000 parcels. And as the parcels are being delivered in bulk, sometimes people need to be at the warehouses 24/7. Occasionally, eCourier is also providing residential facilities to its employees in this moment of crisis.
Coping with this sudden change was not easy, even for renowned super shops such as Agora, Meena Bazar and Swapno, and large-scale e-commerce platforms such as Chaldal.
Each branch of the super shops deliver 15 to 20 grocery shopping bags to their customers every day and the numbers are only increasing with each passing day. As a result, these supershops have recruited delivery agents of their own to meet this dire need.
Tackling the escalating orders
The scenario is more interesting at Chaldal. Pre-pandemic last year, the online grocery store was processing around 3,000 orders a day and had only nine warehouses across Dhaka. Amid pandemic, the orders increased to 16,000 overnight - an absurd amount Chaldal was not ready to handle - and added nine more warehouses along with serving more cities across the country.
Chaldal was delivering about 6,000 orders a day. After the second nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was announced, the number of orders jumped to 8,000 to 9,000. To keep up with the ever-increasing orders, Chaldal has scaled up its delivery capacity to 23,000 orders per day and doubled the delivery team. Now Chaldal is 2,000 employees strong, the delivery men making up 60 percent of the human resources.
As per Shahnewaz, the head of business development at eFood, online food delivery has jumped 15% to 20% during this period. By the end of 2020, Foodpanda had scaled up its operations across 64 districts in the country.
Fahim Ahmed, president & CFO of Pathao, another renowned e-commerce platform said, "We have expanded our delivery services nationwide and recruited additional delivery agents to tackle the increased volume of orders owing to the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr."
Currently 3,00,000 essential workers (drivers, food delivery men, courier agents) are connected with Pathao, who are serving almost two million customers each month.
Customer complaints, suggestions and ratings make any company perform better. Last year when RedX Delivery entered the market, it garnered itself a bad impression as it essentially focused on quantity over quality, one of its former clients told the correspondent.
On the bright side, the number of complaints has significantly decreased now. One of its f-commerce clients, the owner of US & UK Cloud Shop, said, "A few upsetting incidents happened in the beginning but RedX took instant action to improve their service. RedX has been my delivery partner for over a year now without any hassle."
Iftekher Bin Naser Chowdhury, the chief of staff at ShopUp, said, "Our target is to push the number of perfect deliveries to 99%. But even after that, one percent of the deliveries will go wrong. As the number of deliveries grow, so does the numerical value of that one percent. Hence, we are constantly working to keep the complaint curve down."
With that purpose in mind, RedX now has a delivery team of 2,500 riders while more will be joining the nationwide team next month.
"The e-commerce industry has been gaining momentum for almost four years. The pandemic has changed consumer behavior which has contributed to this growth greatly. Appreciating this change, we must remember that it is a tough time and we must all work together. Customers must accept that it may take more time than usual for their products to be delivered and they should allow us the extra hours. We are working to provide quality service. All we need is a little cooperation," stated Biplob.