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Shanghai’s Online Food Market Swamped by Surge in Demand

Millions sought food from the Alibaba’s Freshippo after most supermarkets and stores shut, but the system was overloaded by a 200-300% rise in orders, company says


Alibaba has enjoyed a surge in business from Covid lockdowns as millions use their cloud services and shop online.
Alibaba has enjoyed a surge in business from Covid lockdowns as millions work from home and shop online. Photo: Reuters.

 

Freshippo, the supermarket chain owned by Alibaba, says it has added more delivery personnel in Covid-hit Shanghai, where people have complained of food shortages.

But the company said it has not been able to meet the ramped-up demands of residents as the city’s prolonged battle against the coronavirus has dragged on, taking a severe toll on both citizens and the economy.

Freshippo vice president Shen Li said on Sunday that while the firm’s delivery capacity recovered to about 60-70% of pre-Covid outbreak levels as rules for couriers began to be relaxed, many difficulties remained.

“The biggest challenge we are facing now is that the demand and numbers of orders from consumers has increased by about two to three times compared with pre-outbreak levels,” she said.

China’s most important economic hub has locked down most of its 25 million residents for more than three weeks in an effort to stamp out the country’s largest outbreak since the virus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019.

After most supermarkets and stores were shut across the city, residents resorted to online buying to procure food and other essentials but the system was overloaded and problems continued.

Shanghai authorities have said they are trying to ease these bottlenecks but it remains a key public frustration.

 

Desperate for Deliveries

Many residents have described waking up as early as 5am to try and grab delivery slots from online grocers such as Freshippo, only to find them sold out in seconds.

Freshippo and other vendors have launched bulk-buying purchase schemes, but people have complained about the inability to reach the volumes needed to guarantee orders.

Shen said Freshippo as of Sunday had 47 stores open for online deliveries in Shanghai and it also had set up six additional ad hoc warehouses for the city, due to issues with inter-provincial supply chains.

About 5,000 staff were working in these stores and its warehouses while a further 1,000 were working online from home, she added.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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