Covid-19 has brought a significant shift in an increased number of customers’ preference
The ongoing pandemic educates us about maximum hygiene and the importance of physical distancing.
Most of us are unlikely to unlearn the lessons, even once the pandemic is over.
Here lies the hint that retailing will never remain the same as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic, said Shaheen Khan, chief executive officer of Meena Bazar, one of the country's biggest supermarket chains.
"Will you ever miss a chance to avoid crowding in the coming days? And, if it does not cost you at all, you will be more for physical distancing," he explained the new reality.
That is why Meena Bazar, like many other retailers, has reenergised off-store delivery channels in recent weeks and already appointed 200 new employees dedicated to home deliveries and handling online orders.
People always prefer to see and touch products before they buy, even if that costs them little more – the conveyance, said Khan.
Back in 2012, the country's second supermarket chain Meena Bazar inaugurated their hotline service for home deliveries from the nearest brick and mortar outlets.
At the same time, they opened the first online ordering platform by any grocery chain — initially meenabazar.com.bd that transformed into meenaclick.com later.
The online orders were and still are not subject to the much discussed five percent (currently) value added tax (VAT), which a customer has to pay on the maximum retail price of packaged items in superstores here.
"But people somehow preferred coming to our outlets, even if they need to pay the VAT for branded products in addition to conveyance," he added.
A very few busy customers used to call the hotline for home deliveries, so as the e-commerce orders. No cost-benefit analysis.
Covid-19 has brought a significant shift in an increased number of customers' preference.
Before April, the hotlines were receiving around 50 calls a day for home deliveries from brick and mortar outlets, that has crossed 500 already, said Shaheen Khan.
Meenaclick has witnessed a bigger jump as people are loving groceries at their doorsteps without any extra cost. And of course, no VAT. In many cases, they are receiving cash backs and discounts under various campaigns.
"But we were not fully prepared for the sudden big jump initially and missed lots of home delivery orders. However, within weeks we appointed new team members to serve home orders over phone or app," Khan said.
For a special service to loyal customers in Dhanmondi and Gulshan-Banani areas of the capital, Meena Bazar has also launched mobile outlets in large covered vans. "Just come to nearby roads if physical pre-experiencing of products is a must."
Like the brick and mortar outlets, customers maintain proper distancing and hygiene to buy from the vans. Staff members remain protected with full gears including face shields.
"We are happy that none of our staff members has contracted Covid-19," he said.
"Home delivery costs us, and we are not charging any extra fee to our neighbouring customers against telephonic orders and home deliveries."
There was a risk of cost ineffectiveness, but the average basket size barely coming below Tk3,000 per order and we are managing the cost from margins.
It is a gentlemen's agreement between retailer and its loyal customers, and it is very encouraging for Meena Bazar, said Khan.
"This is the beauty of mutual understanding and acting responsibly."
However, home deliveries are still too insignificant as a portion of the retailer's total turnover. But signaling for a lot, believe its CEO.
"People's love for physically experiencing and going out for shopping cannot be suppressed, but cost benefit analysis would make them order more for home deliveries."
"And, the retailing we know here over decades will never be the same in the future."
Thousands of online retailing platforms are emerging and working hard to position themselves amid the transforming business environment.
There we need a straight assurance to customers that pre-observation of the physical product is unnecessary if you buy from the trusted retailer, said Khan.
Meena Bazar picked the new 200 entrants to its team from an applicant pool of 700 youngsters interviewed.
The chain also entered into delivery partnership with top app based platforms like Uber eats, Pathao and Shohoz.