Coronavirus: Demand for online grocery shopping surges, transport firms exploring options to help with deliveries

Staff at work at Singapore online grocery store RedMart. Redmart said it is looking into hiring more workers to increase fulfilment capacity. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Financial adviser Jane Neoh, 32, has been trying to buy groceries online almost every day for the last few weeks without success.

"I've tried buying some vegetables, meats and household items from FairPrice and Redmart (online) but haven't been able to get any delivery slots so far," she said, adding that she is grateful to still be able to go to supermarkets for her groceries.

"I want to avoid the crowds, so I go to the 24-hour supermarkets around midnight or 1am," she said.

Like Ms Neoh, many shoppers have found online shopping for groceries almost impossible in recent weeks. The number of online grocery shoppers has risen tremendously due to the coronavirus outbreak and spiked again this weekend when safe distancing measures came into play, with the Government calling for people to stay home and shop online.

A check with various online grocery shopping services on Tuesday (March 31) afternoon, including RedMart, FairPrice, Cold Storage and Giant, showed that all available delivery slots have been taken up.

Delivery slots for the next three days were all taken up on RedMart's e-commerce site. No available delivery time slots could be viewed on other supermarkets' websites as of 4pm on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Dairy Farm, which runs Cold Storage and Giant, said staff are working around the clock to fulfil all pending orders.

She said: "We have since added extra picking and delivery capacity to cope with the increase in demand, with new delivery slots being added daily. We are also looking at hiring additional manpower to help support this surge."

She added that these are challenging times and asked that customers also do their part.

"Please do not panic buy and do not try to stock up with overly large quantities of daily essentials," she said.

Chief executive officer of Lazada Singapore James Chang said staff have been "working tirelessly" at Lazada's e-grocer RedMart.

He said: "As we work around the Malaysian border closure, we have been exploring manpower options for our logistics team. This includes tapping on the workforce of companies here who are unable to financially support their workers during this time."

FairPrice and RedMart have also said they are looking into hiring more workers to increase fulfilment capacity.

On Sunday (March 29), Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said taxi and private-hire car drivers can now also deliver groceries. But transport companies say operational details are still unclear, though the opportunity will provide drivers with additional trips during a period of reduced demand for traditional passenger service. It also remains to be determined how much added manpower and delivery logistics this move could add to the market.

Ms Tammy Tan, group chief corporate communications officer at ComfortDelGro said: "We are currently working out operational details with a few companies for the delivery of food and groceries and will keep our drivers posted once these have been sorted out."

SMRT Roads senior vice-president Tony Heng said: "We welcome the good news for SMRT's taxi partners as we have been exploring various ways to increase the number of trips for them during this challenging time."

Mechanical engineer Jeffrey Ng, 36, who usually has groceries delivered to his home twice a month from RedMart, said he has stopped trying to buy online for now.

"The surge in demand has just been crazy. I'm still able to go out to get food, while taking precautions. I don't think everyone is as fortunate," he said.

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