• Sunday, Sep 20, 2020
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OP-ED: A flicker of hope

  • Published at 08:24 pm July 12th, 2020
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We, as consumers, should take a moment to appreciate the convenience provided by online retailers 

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining but, during this challenging period of the coronavirus pandemic, hardly anything seems to be upholding any glimmer of hope. 

It has already been more than six months into 2020, and all we have seen are distraught nations quarantining citizens, limiting travelling, carrying out contact tracing, testing-treating patients, and applying mandatory lockdowns all over the world.  But all these extreme measures failed to prevent over half a million deaths.

On a positive note, it is said that every crisis brings along opportunities. Evidently, this gruesome catastrophe has proven to be prosperous for the global e-commerce sector. Online retail in our country is no exception to this, and has gone through a major change since the pandemic started. 

As more and more people are getting used to their newly enforced, contained lifestyle and social distancing norms, they are shifting towards online shopping and home delivery services. Though there has been a fall in online sale of luxury items, we cannot but notice the boom in the purchasing rate of daily needs, hygiene products, and medicines during the lockdown. 

Chaldal.com was already renowned among the residents of Dhaka as a reliable online grocery platform even before the pandemic. But with the ongoing crisis, an inside source assures: “Our sale has noticeably increased due to the pandemic; almost by 30%”. 

A significant surge in Facebook-based retailers and consumer interest in them has been noted too. Most promising fact about this is the large number of women entrepreneurs. During the quarantine, our women entrepreneurs have successfully balanced their never-ending house-hold chores with the tiresome job of answering endless queries, dealing with supply chain issues, and ensuring product deliveries despite the country-wide lockdown. 

But like many others, this golden opportunity has arrived with some challenges. For instance, shipment problems and the halt of international flights took a toll on the f-commerce businesses; they have little inventory, and are mostly dependent on imported goods. 

Online retailers operating with local artisans are also at a loss because producers or suppliers could hardly work in the past few months, which caused further issues to the scarcity of raw materials. Again, people from all across the country are not privileged, having online access. 

Most of the merchants are based in cities and so are their businesses. Shortage of delivery personnel is a major concern nowadays. Dhaka is considered as one of the most expensive cities to live in, and the lockdown has viciously victimized the lower-middle class earners the most. A lot of people employed in the delivery sector have left the capital, whereas, the ones staying are hesitant to risk their lives for their jobs. 

Moreover, safe delivery has been another matter of concern. Despite most of the online retailers and delivery services following strict hygiene measures, many consumers are skeptical and rejecting this safer option of purchasing. “While everyone is staying at home, we are roaming around the city to deliver. But customers are often declining to receive the products for hygiene issues, even not picking up our calls at times,” quibbles Shanto, an employee of a Dhaka-based delivery service company. 

Delivery personnel working during the early phase of lockdown were also often harassed by the law enforcers. Another drawback regarding online business is gaining consumer support, as some buyers often have a prejudiced view towards e-commerce and are uncertain about the quality of the products sold online.

Despite this, in present times, more people are opting for online shopping and most of them are absolutely satisfied with the service they received. “For daily needs, online shopping has my absolute reliance as this has been the key to keep me and my parents safe through this time of pandemic,” says Syeda Murshed, a brand manager from a prominent MNC. 

As more days are passing in this panic-induced situation, not only the demand of daily essentials, but also that of toiletries, casual clothing, and budget-friendly fashion items is rising rapidly. With imports being curtailed, interest of customers has radically shifted towards local products. 

Moreover, shopping from the online stores often offers many consumers a pleasant escape from constantly worrying about the infectious breakout. This system provided much relief to many parents before Eid as it enabled them to buy new clothing for their young children for the joyous ceremony. 

Shamsunnahar Jyoti, owner of an online jewelry page “Beevob” says: “It feels wonderful to be able to help people throughout this hard time. Many of my customers gave feedback that shopping from my page has given them solace, a break from the monotonous lockdown.” Thus, for multiple reasons, the majority of the middle-class households in cities are getting used to online shopping. 

Many Facebook-based sellers have become friends with their customers and gradually are getting involved in our communities by utilizing the local channels, creating creative advertisements on social media and communicating with consumers on a daily basis. Many merchants are coming up with installment options, promotions, and discounts for their customers to help fulfill all their wishes in these  trying times. 

Some are also being engaged in charity and supporting people in difficulties. For example, a famous f-commerce site “6 yards story” took a great initiative to deliver essential medicines to people in need in the early days of lockdown.

As the Chinese proverb goes: “Crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind” and our online retailers seemed to have successfully harnessed this current wind. We, the blessed consumers, may take a moment to appreciate the online retailers for the effort they have extended through this trying time to keep ourselves within the safety of our homes. 

The unsung heroes -- the delivery personnel -- who risk themselves in our service must also be praised. We sincerely hope that after the world returns to normalcy, the online commerce sector will continue to grow and help our economy, as it is doing through the hardest of times.

Mumtahina Kabir and Ashraful Bhuiyan are post-graduate students at University of Dhaka.

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