Puts collaborating e-commerce outlets in jeopardy
Despite high demand for its affordable products, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) closed its online sales a day after it began, as demand in its open market sale (OMS) trucks have shot up.
According to sources, the current stock of essential commodities the TCB possesses, including edible oil, lentil, sugar, chickpeas and others, can only cover their OMS truck demands.
Usually in this case, TCB will emphasize on fulfilling its OMS inventory to meet demands of the people, who stand in long queues for the products that are sold at subsidized prices, lower than the traditional shops and markets.
After inking a contract with several online and e-commerce outlets on April 26 for shipping essential commodities, the TCB was supposed to allocate 150 tons worth of products for 10 days to the 8 e-commerce platforms, until May 6.
The digital outlets included OneStopSuperShop, Chaldal, Shwapno, Jachai, Bairan, ePolli, SobjiBazaar and KGclick, to allow purchasing from home, for those who opted out of standing in long queues amid Ramadan.
Of the 150 tons, 146 tons was supposed to be supplied for Dhaka city residents and the rest for people of Sirajganj and Tangail, until May 6.
But the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) said they only received 60 tons worth of products from the TCB, which was already finished in 4 hours on the first day.
“Our requirement was 280 tons for 12 days. But TCB gave us 60 tons, a third of the quantity we asked for. Not only that, they suddenly stopped giving us rest of the products,” said e-CAB General Manager Jahangir Alam Shovon.
Online demand was so huge that within 3-4 hours all 60 tons' products from the first allocation were finished.
“We have more than 2,000 orders per hour. As long as we had products in the stock, there were 1,000 orders for four products in an hour on Chaldal, 500 orders per hour at Jachai, 300 orders per hour in Shawpno, and an average of 100 orders per hour on other websites,” Jahangir also said.
"We are in an embarrassing situation as we have a contract with TCB and buyers want to know over phone when their remaining stock will arrive," he lamented.
“Although there is huge demand, why did TCB stop shipping the rest of the stock was beyond e-CAB's comprehension. Whether TCB will give the rest of the products by the end of May 6 or not also remains unclear,” said Muhammad Abdul Wahed Tomal, general secretary of e-CAB.
Data from Chaldal shows 3,372 orders were placed for edible oil and 1,270 orders placed for chickpeas from 17 areas of Dhaka city in the first four hours.
From the Mirpur area, 347 and 118 orders were placed for these two products which is the highest number.
Also, 265 orders for edible oil and 110 orders for chickpeas came from Uttara area, the second highest order number on the site.
Besides, 205 and 90 orders were placed from Panthapath, 150 and 57 from Nikunja, 98 and 42 from Banani, 216 and 70 from Jatrabari, 258 and 74 from Kallaynpur etc for edible oil and chickpeas at the same site.
The order numbers from other sites were not found until filing of this report.
Jachai introduced an option to take queries from buyers after the product is finished. It has been seen that 70,000 queries were posted, e-CAB said.
However, the Import and Internal Trade (IIT) wing of the commerce ministry does not see this in positive way as their products are primarily for the underprivileged people who live in areas such as Jatrabari, Sayedabad and others.
“It is unacceptable if well-to-do areas' people like Banani, Uttara, Dhanmondi and Gulshan people order TCB products, as our target is to provide essential items to the poor at subsidized rates. We have stock only for OMS trucks at this moment. That is why our online operations and distribution has ceased for the moment,” said Additional Secretary AHM Shafiquzzaman, head of the IIT wing of the Commerce Ministry.
“We do not focus on online sales; it is our second option. Otherwise, the low-income group will not get TCB products. We will decide later about online selling,” he added.
In this context, e-CAB said that they are monitoring which areas people are buying TCB products. They said they found most people ordered from poor areas like Jatrabari and Mirpur, which were not affluent neighbourhoods.
OMS trucks see increase in allocation
According to TCB’s spokesperson Humayun Kabir, the demand of TCB products in OMS intensified in recent times as prices were getting out of reach in kitchen markets.
From April 1, TCB has been selling essential commodities at low prices through more than 3,000 dealers and their trucks across the country.
When the demand increased ahead of Ramadan, TCB also increased its product capacity and quantity.
On TCB Service Week (Seba Soptaho), which started from April 30, 20 trucks have been newly added in Dhaka area.
Currently 120 trucks operate in Dhaka and 520 trucks across the country.
The quantity of edible soybean oil increased by 200 litres based on the demand. It is now increased to 1,400 litres from 1,200 litres for each truck.
Currently TCB trucks sell 600 tons of edible oil daily.
Demand for edible oil has grown significantly as its prices have soared in the market. So, the allocation of soybean oil in the OMS truck sale was increased, this will continue until May 6, said Humayun Kabir.
However, they are giving away 5,000 masks complimentary to their customers, he added.
Other products' quantity is also increased, lentils increased to 500-600kg from 300kg, sugar increased to 700kg from 500-600 kg, which in turn was an increase from 300kg earlier.
Each truck contains around 2.5-3 tons of products. About 1,300-1,500 tons products are selling across the country each day.
The price of each kg sugar, lentil, and chickpeas is Tk55 each, edible oil Tk 100per litre, dates Tk80per kg, and onions Tk20 per kg.
However, onions, dates and chickpea stocks are already finished.
A person can buy at most 4kg sugar, 2kg lentil, 5 litres edible soybean oil and 3kg of chickpeas each day.