Due to intermittent social distancing measures implemented over the past year, consumers in Vietnam have gradually transitioned from panic buying to becoming more accustomed to online shopping for food and other essential items.

Increased Demand

Foot traffic at a grocery store on Tran Nao Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s Thu Duc City has decreased recently. However, store staff continue to work diligently to fulfill orders for delivery drivers who stop by the shop for a few minutes to pick up grocery bags for customers.

According to the store manager, online and phone orders have tripled since social distancing guidelines were reinstated in Ho Chi Minh City on May 31.

Other retailers throughout the city have also reported a surge in online orders, particularly for food and other essential items, since early May when the first cases of community transmission were detected after weeks without local transmission.

In fact, grocery delivery has been so successful that several local stores have had to temporarily suspend their order systems to catch up with the backlog of deliveries.

Delivery worker Tung mentioned that most of the orders he delivers are placed in the morning, allowing him to work only half a day to cover his expenses. Customers have been ordering spices, bread, vegetables, and meat, as opposed to instant noodles during the initial lockdown a year ago.

To meet the increased demand, all staff members at the retail chain Saigon Co.op have been mobilized to process online orders. The company has repurposed its customer care hotlines to take orders and transfer them to the nearest Co.op supermarket to the customer’s address. The focus has also shifted to their mobile application for the sale of fresh groceries and essential items.

Competitor VinMart has also introduced various tech-based shopping options, including apps, websites, hotlines, and shops on multiple e-commerce platforms. Through these channels, they offer four-hour delivery and cashless payments to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

A VinMart representative stated that the company has received twice as many orders from Ho Chi Minh City during the current social distancing period compared to their usual figures.

In line with other retailers, Aeon Vietnam experienced a four to six-fold increase in online sales in May compared to April. The company’s sales continued to grow during the last week of May across all channels, including their e-commerce site AeonEshop, the Aeon App, and delivery apps such as Grab and Now.

This surge in demand has also benefited grocery sections on e-commerce platforms like Lazada and Tiki. Lazada reported a ten-fold increase in fresh and frozen grocery sales on their system, while Tiki is expanding its inventory by 50 percent across all product categories to meet the rising demand.

A delivery worker sends packages for a customer in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Q.Dinh / Tuoi Tre
A delivery worker sends packages for a customer in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Q.Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Stringent Safety Measures

The social distancing mandate has not only boosted grocery sales, but also increased the demand for online purchases of home appliances and tech products.

Electronics retailer Dien May Xanh and its sister chain mobile retailer The Gioi Di Dong have seen online sales triple during the current period of social distancing.

Mobile chain Di Dong Viet reported a 45 percent increase in their online customer base, with Facebook and YouTube sales rising by 40 percent.

Meanwhile, delivery orders for mobile retailer Shopdunk have increased by 50 percent.

Many retailers have implemented a free shipping policy for areas with virus outbreaks, including Ho Chi Minh City, to encourage customers to make purchases from home.

To ensure safety during the pandemic, delivery workers from each company are required to limit their travel area and avoid direct contact with sales clerks. They must adhere to strict measures, including body temperature checks before each shift, social distancing, face mask wearing, and hand sanitizing.

Delivery drivers for The Gioi Di Dong and Dien May Xanh have even been divided into two teams with rotating shifts to reduce transmission risks.

Additionally, they must maintain social distancing during deliveries, including when customers sign for packages.

Delivery company J&T goes further by adding a health status label on packages and thoroughly sanitizing each package before delivery.

Despite these precautions, many delivery services are declining orders from areas severely affected by outbreaks, such as Go Vap District, which has been cordoned off by authorities.

Delivery workers sit in safe distancing while waiting to collect orders for their customers at a supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: K.L. / Tuoi Tre
Delivery workers sit in safe distancing while waiting to collect orders for their customers at a supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: K.L. / Tuoi Tre

Risks Faced by Delivery Workers

In recent weeks, many customers have complained about cancellations of air conditioner orders on e-commerce platforms. In response, sellers explained that delivery workers and installation technicians are considered at high risk of infection and have been isolated after entering customers’ homes.

To ensure the safety of their delivery workers, many online sellers have temporarily suspended their at-home installation service for furniture and home appliances.

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