Online ventures that run grocery businesses have no time to even take a breather amidst the deluge of orders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that calls for social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
Chaldal.com, the country's largest online grocery shopping venture, is getting so many hits on its website that it has limited taking orders strictly to what it can deliver every day in Dhaka.
"We are observing hits four to five times our capacity," Zia Ashraf, co-founder of Chaldal, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Chaldal has the capacity to deliver 5,000 orders per day in Dhaka.
If anyone puts in any order on Saturday, they will not get the delivery before Wednesday.
"We have sufficient supplies but the main challenge is making the deliveries."
Before the virus scare, each order on an average amounted to Tk 1,500. But now it had crossed Tk 3,000.
"People want huge quantities of essentials such as rice, eggs and hand sanitisers. In order to ensure equal distribution, we have decided not to deliver over two dozen eggs, 10 kilograms of rice and two hand sanitisers in a single order," Ashraf said, adding that Chaldal has already contacted suppliers and placed demands.
In its efforts to deal with the situation, Chaldal has started the process to appoint 200 delivery personnel and is going to buy 150 motorcycles as soon as possible.
The online grocery platform is also trying to go into partnerships with the delivery companies that have not been flooded with orders.
Chaldal is setting up more warehouses, both permanent and makeshift, in the city because of the growing demand. It has suspended plans to expand business to other cities and is rather putting all its attention to Dhaka right now.
Shaheen Khan, chief executive officer of Meena Bazar, one of the largest supermarket chains in Bangladesh, which also has an online store, echoed narrated a similar picture as Ashraf.
"We had anticipated such a situation and that is why we had taken preparations. But demand has very much exceeded all our estimates," Khan said.
Meena Bazar is making deliveries against more than double the average number of orders it caters to on a normal day, he said, without giving anything specifics.
It usually tries to deliver groceries right to the doorsteps of customers within two to three hours. But currently, this deadline is being missed for the huge backlog of orders.
"We are also trying to explore partnerships and that will start working in the shortest possible time," he added.
While online groceries are passing busy times, the other e-commerce and food delivery companies are experiencing a decline in traffic.
Food delivery platform Foodpanda and e-commerce delivery company eCourier said the number of orders they get daily has faced a setback because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was quite the opposite in developed countries.
The number of daily orders in the Bangladesh, India and Pakistan markets had dropped by about 15 per cent but things were different in countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, said Ambareen Reza, co-founder and managing director of Foodpanda Bangladesh.
It is quite natural that people are now more conservative towards spending, especially in Dhaka, given the all-round uncertainty.
Besides, people have stocked up on essentials, and as most of them are at home, they are enjoying home-cooked meals more.
"But things will change within a short time, which also happened in other markets as well."
Foodpanda has been working with 8,000 restaurants and provided them security and hygiene kits from Monday to ensure that the restaurants are safe.
It currently has about 17,000 delivery personnel and their safety and hygiene are the top priority right now and not the order numbers, Reza added.
Biplob Ghosh Rahul, chief executive officer of eCourier, which delivers products for all the top e-commerce companies across the country, said they faced a setback in order numbers: it fell by about 20 per cent.
Earlier, fashion products, mobile phones and accessories topped the list of coveted products. But now, hygiene products like face masks and hand sanitisers had taken over.
"First, we have to keep our staff safe and that is why we have introduced alternate days for staff to work from office and then from home and also ensured additional safety measures," Rahul added.