#WhatNow: How can the pandemic change the shopping experience?

#WhatNow: How can the pandemic change the shopping experience?

#WhatNow is a biweekly show on WAYA that tries to make sense of what is happening in the world. We follow how people’s lives and businesses are affected by current events, advancement in technology, and global politics. The show hosts different stakeholders from the entrepreneurship ecosystem and industry leaders to help answer some of the most pressing questions on people’s minds. 

Every episode is dedicated to a particular market or sector. With the dwindling purchasing power inspired by the salary cuts and downsizing discussed in episode 1, we explore what the future has in store for the shopping industry.


Controlling the queue

The imposed curfew in Egypt and other countries has left people with a small window for shopping. Speaking to Dina Teilab, a data analyst at GoodsMart, an Egyptian grocery app, we learn that orders increased by 300% overnight once the lockdown was imposed earlier in March. To be able to curb and control panic buying and hoarding, GoodsMart put a cap on orders; maximum 10 items per product.

Grocery shopping apps like GoodsMart are on the rise, but the penetration is no where near in-person shopping.

As foot traffic increased, supermarkets started limiting capacity and making people wait outside. Which doesn’t really solve the problem because people can still contract the virus out in the open – especially when they don’t respect the queue.

Dor-e is a tech startup that has been working on a long overdue digital solution to automate queues.

We’re providing safety for the customers, so they don’t shop in a condensed store. At the same time I’m providing safety for the supermarket staff whose risk increases the more the store is crowded.

Mostafa Balbaa, CEO, Dor-e

With clients like Abu Auf and Carrefour, customers can book their spot in the queue and plan their day ahead according to the waiting time. The average waiting time depends on the place and its capacity according to their policy. In a store like Abu Auf, if it’s a small store then it would take three people only. Especially before Ramadan, it would be very crowded, so the waiting time would be up to 30 minutes or 25 minutes, Balbaa tells us. A place like Carrefour has a high turnover due to its size, so the average is 10 to 15 minutes maximum.

Will e-commerce be the only way for commerce?

Once their businesses were in jeopardy, so many entrepreneurs turned to online shopping… such as MerMaid for example. The clean-tech startup offering on-demand cleaning services now sells sanitizers and disinfectants online. But nothing is black or white.

E-commerce has solved buying, but it has killed shopping along the way. It is very very difficult to implement a human relationship.

Lydia Schoonderbeek, CEO, Source Beauty

Source Beauty is an Egyptian online market that “sources” local beauty products that has recently secured a round of investment from 500 Startups. During the pandemic, Source Beauty saw a rise in self-care products especially in hair masks and skin care remedies that can be done at home to create a spa-like feeling.

E-commerce and beauty are two worlds apart. Schoonderbeek and her team find it very difficult to marry such a transactional medium that e-commerce is to an emotional spouse such as the beauty sector in these trying times.

The “Risk of Success” never made more sense

The high demand on delivery in the past few months has boosted many startups but it also scared some away.  The mayhem in the F&B market pushed Uber Eats out of the Middle East among other markets around the world, suspending its operations as of May 18.

I knew that food aggregation in Egypt will be tough, because the restaurants will be unable to pay this cut from their piece and this will create harder partnerships for the food aggregators. It’s very tough to spend on supply and demand at the same time, and food aggregation does this.

Mohamed Aboulnaga, Co-founder and CCO, Halan

The ride-hailing and delivery startup, Halan, adopts a b-to-b anti-aggregation format, since they empower all the restaurants and the businesses to do their own delivery without relying on an aggregator.

Unable to keep up with the demand, and even after a mega-hiring wave, Amazon announced it will delay the delivery of all “non-essential” products. Moreover, Shopify saw explosive growth in its market cap by 55%. In fact their CTO says they’re seeing Black Friday levels of traffic every day. 

A utopia of shopping?

Halan found a huge spike in the demand for the non-food delivery. They started to create the supply for this area, which is the pharmacy and the supermarket deliveries.

The pandemic also inspired pivoted expansions to the startup’s business model. Turning Halan into a fin-tech company, the startup also launched their e-wallet and called it HalanPay. They also launched bill payment services with Fawry, so that Halan’s customers can pay their bills at home.  

It doesn’t make sense that delivery stays untouched in the middle of all these drastic changes. In the past few years, Tesla and other tech tycoons bombarded us with their trials, errors and reveals of delivery drones and autonomous vehicles. Will we being any of these soon; when we need them the most?

COVID-19 will make things change very fast, so we will move to a contact-less delivery very fast, driverless delivery globally will happen. But in Egypt it will take some time. So I see delivery booming and last mile delivery booming in the next phase. Even whole-mile, which is factory-to-consumer, is also booming to remove the middle men as their economic conditions are harder and harder.

Mohamed Aboulnaga, Co-founder and CCO, Halan

In conclusion, we spoke with Robusta’s CEO and the one who orchestrated E-commerce Summit. We learn that the future holds both growth and competition. With the big momentum coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, customer expectations will be shifting, businesses will capitalize on this shift in consumer behavior.

Things like image search and voice search will become mainstream. Augmented Reality will become essential for people to experience products at home like they experience it in store. Because in e-commerce, the one thing that’s significantly different than the in-store experience is competition.

Hussein Mohieldin, CEO, Robusta, E-commerce Summit

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