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To survive the COVID pandemic in Pakistan, grocery stores go online

To survive the COVID pandemic in Pakistan, grocery stores go online

Aamer Khattak opened his grocery store 20 years ago when he was just 17, with a small amount of capital, a small location, and big dreams of financial security.

Today, his Khattak General Store is twice its original size, a mainstay of his neighborhood in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, and supports his family of 15.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit Pakistan in February, it suddenly faced new costs, dwindling demand and limited opening hours during strict closings imposed in March and April.

"The burden [of losses] fell on our store," he says, recalling those months. “We had to cover [household] expenses for food and drink, so the effect was huge on the business.

“We ran out of stock because we had no money. When you don't have the money, you can't have the same variety. "

Khattak was struggling to make ends meet, as the store's monthly profit, typically around $ 450, was down nearly 30 percent.

But despite the fall, Khattak's business has survived. Your strategy? Take phone orders from old customers in your neighborhood and give them credit when they needed it.

But others in the grocery business have taken a high-tech approach, one that has allowed them not only to survive the pandemic but also to thrive.

As strict closures were put in place across the country in the first half of 2020, Pakistani tech entrepreneurs say they saw grocery orders placed online and via mobile apps skyrocket, achieving in days the kind of growth that they expected in three years.

The question many of them are asking now is: Will it last?

Huge growth

"We have seen a definite increase in people who are more comfortable with using technology and online services," says Misbah Naqvi, co-founder and partner of i2i Ventures, a venture capital fund for Pakistani technology startups. which are still in their early stages. .

"This has been a challenge in the past, where excellent solutions are offered, but adoption has been slow," Naqvi told Al Jazeera.

Pakistan's grocery retail space, which according to tech industry experts is worth more than $ 50 billion in annual revenue, is dominated by what are known as "karyana" stores, like those in Khattak. These are small shops, often no bigger than a hole in the wall, that cater for household staples like flour, rice, sugar, legumes, etc.

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