Buying things that you need every day - aka groceries have been generally considered a family outing in a country like Pakistan where other recreational and leisure activities are limited. Compared to other categories of retail like electronics and apparel, this segment been slow in digital adoption and jumping on the e-commerce platforms. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has brought visible changes to how groceries have been done in the last 6 months or so as shoppers’ physical mobility was limited.
While the rise in online grocery shopping has been witnessed in 2020 due to COVID-19, the e-commerce market in Pakistan has seen the niche of online grocery portals gain momentum even before the pandemic. And while numerous new players as well as the existing brick-and-mortar players have set up their online stores during 2020, pre-pandemic online grocery sales were led by corporate bulk buying in value and volume, but individual customers were making majority of the orders – i.e. leading in the number of orders that are usually small and frequent.
While there is no data available to gauge the actual growth in grocery online retail, retailers have been heard of reporting massive surge in orders and in many cases over 100 percent year-on year increase. Estimates reported from pre-pandemic times suggest that the online grocery market makes up six percent of the total e-commerce market in the country; if the country’s e-commerce market size was a $2 billion as highlighted by various sources, it puts the online grocery market size at over $100 million.
So, the growth in 2020 would have been much more significant than the previous years. Data from Invest2Innovate’s recent insights extracted from i2i’s Deal Flow Tracker show that a total of $4.3 million was raised by 5 B2B grocery startups in 2020 alone, which is 17 percent of the total investment amount raised in 2020 so far including B2B players like Tajir, Bazaar, MandiExpress, and Dastgyr. Though this data is specifically for B2B grocery e-commerce, it is an indicator of growth in the online grocery segment. The insight further highlights that the market has experienced a surge in use of B2C and B2B online grocery services.
The question now is if the growth will sustain. Will COVID-19 act as the tipping point for grocery retail in Pakistan? For the segment to do that, the volumes must keep flowing as well as continue rising. Also, prompt delivery, adequate shipping, and ample inventory are all KPIs that the online grocery retailers have to master to stay in the game. It would not work if the retailers had a short-term view and did not invest in the backend and frontend technology. Coming months will show how much of the customers these online grocery platforms and apps are able to retain. According to Google’s latest COVID-19 Community Mobility Report, supermarket and pharmacy has already started seeing higher mobility - 12 percent spike in mobility from the baseline (Jan-Feb), while other categories like retail and recreation continue to be bogged down (down by 8 percent compared to the baseline).