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With technological advancement, getting deliveries at home or office whether it is grocery or a parcel, has never been easier. It takes one click to get products or food at the doorsteps and this is due to the logistic service providers. The rapid growth in e-Commerce in Bangladesh has  been a windfall to local logistics service providers.

As of January 2020, e-commerce was growing at 72 percent per month, indicating a sharply rising demand for deliveries.[1] The growth was propelled by the rising internet and smartphone penetration, demographic dividend and increasing disposable income. However, the current COVID-19 situation has brought significant obstacles in the operations of logistic service providers.

In India, e-commerce firms including Amazon and Flipkart as well as B2B platforms Jumbotail and Udaan had to stop deliveries as restrictions on manufacturing and movement of goods and delivery men have caused operational turmoil.[2] Similarly in Bangladesh, the logistic providers have been struggling to satisfy their customers during lockdowns as major challenges such as unprecedented demand surge for essentials, shortage of qualified workforce and safe packaging and delivery infrastructure stand in the way.

How Deliveries Looked Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, the number of deliveries per day was around 60,000 in the online commerce segment which is twice that of traditional couriers. Employing around 10,000 people, the sector was booming at an annual growth of 100 percent and was earning around BDT 5 million of daily delivery payments.[3] The online-based logistics industry in Bangladesh can be categorized into three groups; e-commerce and f-commerce, food delivery and self-delivery.

FIGURE: Types of deliveries in Bangladesh / Source: e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB)

E-commerce & F-commerce

E-commerce and f-commerce share the largest chunk of the pie with 60 percent, followed by food delivery and self-delivery with 30 percent and 10 percent respectively. The number of delivery companies in Dhaka is about 300, with 111 of them being members of the Courier Services Association of Bangladesh. Paperfly, eCourier, Pathao, Biddyut are among the top logistics providers cornering 90% of the market while e-commerce giants such as Daraz, Chaldal have their in-house logistics arrangements. 

In contrast, traditional logistics service providers have not been able to leverage their workforce and infrastructure to grab a larger share of the e-Commerce and f-Commerce delivery segment, owing partly due to their legacy operations that affected their readiness to operate in an e-Commerce centric world.Nationwide, however, , these traditional courier companies play a major role with SA Paribahan Courier Service and Sundarban Courier Service lead the pack. Previously, the Post Office used to deliver only individual parcels between friends and families, but, it too has started delivering products of online business orders.

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Food Delivery

The growing trend of smartphone app-based food deliveries in Bangladesh has allowed various local and international players to compete with each other primarily in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. The journey of food delivery started in 2013 with HungryNaki, followed by the entrance of German-based food delivery company Foodpanda. Later, Pathao Foods, Sohoz Foods and Uber Eats joined the food delivery market and Pathao Foods became the market leader. However, Uber Eats has recently announced to discontinue their food delivery services in Bangladesh

Self-Delivery

According to the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), the average number of food deliveries used to be 30,000 per day. Alongside this, top restaurants such as KFC, Pizza Hut, and Pizza Inn, etc. managed their delivery channels. Meanwhile, several f-commerce platforms such as Saverie’s Clothing Line were delivering their products without the help of any logistics providers. The number of daily self-deliveries totaled an approximate 10,000, but the sector has been dealt a blow in the wake of COVID-19.

Delivering in the Wake of Pandemic

Since the lockdowns were imposed in March, most of the e-commerce businesses had to halt their operations, except the sellers of essential products. Demand for grocery, hygiene products and medicine skyrocketed while non-essential products saw a plunge in demand. Third-Party logistics (3PL) providers in Bangladesh who are not essential sellers such as Paperfly have experienced an almost 90 percent decrease in orders.[4] On the other hand, Chaldal, the leading online grocery platform, faced itself in a unique position of having to restrict orders as a consequence of not having additional qualified and competent delivery workforce available at hand.

The smartphone app-based delivery services put in efforts to capitalize on this opportunity and started delivering the essential products. Pathao has relaunched its ‘Tong’ service and launched Pathao Shop to provide non-essentials before the Eid-ul-Fitr. Foodpanda launched Pandamart to deliver groceries and medicines, followed by Shohoz starting similar services. Anticipating the necessity, the organized retail industry such as Shwapno, Agora, Meena too started partnering up with these platforms.

The delivery disruptions were acknowledged by the government as well and a mobile post office service was introduced by Bangladesh Post Office (BPO) to deliver a wide range of products including COVID-19 related medical equipment in the pandemic-stricken country.[5]

In short, the supply chain disruptions caused by panic buying was something that the logistics providers were simply not equipped for. Migrant workers  shifting away from Dhaka to their home districts further intensified the labor shortage. Besides, the businesses involved in delivery had to ensure that they were maintaining the safety and hygiene standards . However, with the economy reopening, the pressure on the delivery services should start lowering  shortly. 

Tech-enabled Logistics Ecosystem to Succeed in Post COVID-19

While the explosion of e-commerce and online sales has aided in the growth and structural transformation of the logistics industry of Bangladesh, the global e-commerce logistic industry is already planning ahead to accelerate its shift towards using automated vehicles for deliveries, The contagious nature of COVID-19 has led to consumers demanding contactless services,  which the logistic services can capitalize on if they can take timely action. 

In the coming years, the logistics companies that are better tech-enabled will get a better opportunity to thrive in the market. Both the traditional and online retailers should focus on building the logistics ecosystem in a prognostic, tech-enabled and resilient fashion. The delivery companies should use a predictive approach to analyze future market trends and build their labor readiness according to that. Omni-channel retailing is going to be in high demand which will require a strong emphasis on improving infrastructure and increasing efficiency. 

To conclude, the future for delivery in Bangladesh seems bright given the faster adoption of online ordering in the urban population. Hence, the logistic providers should plan their way forward smartly to be able to make fast and seamless delivery and leverage the maximum output from the growing digital consumer class.

Ishrat Jahan Holy, Content Writer at LightCastle Partners, has prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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