Technology and e-commerce companies respond to the crisis

Services that deliver food, groceries, medical supplies and packages are among the few businesses thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic after local authorities ordered the closure of bars, dine-in restaurants, and entertainment facilities throughout much of Myanmar. More and more Myanmar people are practising social distancing and staying at home. Grocery stores remain open and many restaurants are offering carryout and delivery. Delivery companies in Myanmar have seen a surge in their businesses in recent weeks.

And with the streets of Yangon being empty this Thingyan, bicycle couriers dominate the roads – carrying their deliveries for companies like Food Panda and Door2Door. Online transactions reached a high-point from early April onwards, when news of restaurant closures started to become a reality for many hungry residents. With such high demand, Door2Door temporarily suspended orders between certain hours to meet incoming requests.

Companies like Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel have also been working overtime during Thingyan, delivering food to workers in essential services across the city. Supplying lunch boxes to workers three times a day, delivery manager Kyaw Shin said that they had to cook around 210 meals just for the employees at OK Money. The digital payment app company estimates it has around 200 employees across two branches in the city, which was cut to just 70 to maintain operations before the Thingyan break.

Marathon Myanmar, one of the country’s leading e-commerce delivery companies, also reported significantly higher demand for delivery services during the pandemic. Their solution to meeting the demand has been somewhat creative, with the company recruiting taxi drivers and freelance delivery cyclists into its existing technology platform. The initiative helps to increase delivery capacity, whilst providing extra income for both taxi drivers and other freelance dispatch riders.

So far, the e-commerce company has employed over 20 taxi drivers to meet their delivery needs for the first weeks of April, and plan to adopt the same model in Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.

Like many other companies, Marathon is also adjusting its operations to ensure their workforce remains safe during the pandemic. As early as the first week of March, Marathon began supplying free facemasks and hand sanitisers to all delivery personnel and their families. This includes providing supplies to the new freelance drivers and couriers who, along with the company’s regular staff, have been instructed to wash their hands before, during and after each delivery.

With couriers, delivery and taxi drivers coming into regular contact with the public, it’s important that this particular workforce be supported in their hygiene practices. A series of photos showing a young bike courier, seen dismounting and washing his hands before delivering a food parcel, won the praise of thousands of Facebook users in Myanmar last week. The post was shared hundreds of times, and indicates how rapidly attitudes towards hygiene have changed amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

For Marathon, a healthy workforce is also key to getting goods from its hub in Yangon to cities across the country. As early as mid-March, the company began instructing employees to wash their hands with soap and water regularly, installing new water basins at the building’s entrance. Staff members were also encouraged to operate on a flexible schedule in order to avoid large crowds, and the company provided a new shuttle service for staff commuting to the office from various places in the city.

Myanmar’s response to the threat of COVID-19 has seen the adoption of best practices from overseas to fit local sensibilities. The widespread distribution of hand sanitisers and face masks is an example of this, with local pharmacy chains and supermarkets initially leading the way. At the street level, small-scale vendors now sell bottles of hand sanitsers and gloves alongside betel nut and bottled water.

These kinds of changes often occur through the business sector first, with its increased exposure to developments outside of the country. Referring to the company’s response to COVID-19 in Myanmar, Marathon’s CEO Okkar Phyo said: “We are a business that thrives on a healthy and robust team of delivery personnel traversing the remote corners of the country, and we want to ensure they practice good hygiene habits. So, we looked at what companies were doing in places like Singapore and agreed as a business that we wanted to be held to an international standard”.

Marathon Myanmar is a tech focused one-stop-shop logistics company which offers delivery services throughout the country and, with developments like its merchant app, illustrates the importance of technology in times of crisis.

It’s difficult to imagine how Myanmar, as a country that has only recently connected itself to the world through smart phones and the internet, could have dealt with this pandemic just ten years ago. Not only in terms of sharing information, but technology companies have also assisted consumers to order products from furniture to food, electronics and hand sanitisers, at the swipe of a smartphone app.

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Source : Myanmar Times

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