State and private sector accelerate e-commerce spend as COVID-19 alters shopping habits

As COVID-19 is altering almost everything including how people shop for their day-to-day needs, some chief executives expect such changes are here to stay even after the pandemic passes and therefore, they are making some crucial changes to their business models to adapt fast. 

According to chief executives from both private and public sectors, they are ready to pour more money into upgrading their e-commerce platforms going forward either by way of building their own delivery platforms or in partnership with already established delivery channels such as postal service. 

According to Vish Govindasamy, Group Managing Director of Sunshing Holdings PLC, which runs a health and wellness business under the ‘Healthguard’ brand, said they had begun channelling more resources into bolstering its online shopping platform. 

“Our qualified pharmacists have engaged with customers through the online platform to supply life-saving medications to their doorstep, with the assistance of last mile delivery partners,” Govindasamy said in a stock exchange filing to apprise the stakeholders of the impact on the company’s different businesses from the pandemic. 

Sunshine Holdings has business interests in healthcare through its pharmaceutical business, consumer business dominated by its branded tea and agri business comprised of palm oil and dairy. 

Govindasamy said although the scale of operations is below the pre-crisis levels, they had been using their online platform to supply health and wellness products and continue to supply their tea to retailers, who will then sell them via their online channels. 

“…the scale of operations is below the pre-COVID-19 levels and we expect consumer and shopping habits to change going forward. 

The company will continue to explore innovative ways to service the evolving needs of our customers,” he added. 
Meanwhile, the state-owned State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) last week launched its maiden mobile app under its namesake brand, ‘OsuSala’ to facilitate online ordering medicines and to get delivered to doorstep through Sri Lanka Post. 

What prompted the mobile app was a result of a trial, which ran during the first couple of weeks into the lockdowns to deliver medicines through a collaboration between SPC and Sri Lanka Post. Now the two parties are exploring ways to make it mainstream.

The mobile app was developed within a matter of few weeks and was a fine example of how the technology can be used to transform state institutions, which are generally considered as lethargic and inefficient. 

The new SPC management is now expecting to redirect most of its future resources into strengthening its e-commerce platform and work closely with post offices even in remote areas, so that those who are less technology savvy could have their medicines delivered.

All privately-owned supermarket chains have also dusted up their online platforms to ensure business continuity and are encouraging customers to order online. 

Meanwhile, many informal channels have also sprung up with phone numbers being used to take orders and deliver them within the locality, as lockdowns became prolonged.  

Globally although the restaurant industry was walloped by the pandemic, those who have delivery channels operated via their online platforms are seen thriving.

Domino’s Pizza, the world’s largest pizza chain, saw its sales increasing as customers settled into lockdowns at their homes. Even in Sri Lanka it restarted delivering from mid-April. 

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