Delivery Men
All lined up to take on orders and deliver. More jobs are being created in this category as UAE consumers shift online. Image Credit: Palmon

Dubai: Guess which is the fastest growing job opportunity – outside of healthcare - in UAE these days?

Delivery riders… and, yes, they will need to have two-wheeler licenses. Having car licenses can be a big plus. Knowledge of UAE streets can be learnt on the job.

“We are hiring staff and training them at a fast pace; we have also outsourced some of our delivery capacity to third-party partners with the highest standards of service and sanitation,” said Amira Rashad, CEO of BulkWhiz, an online grocery portal that saw a 100 per cent spike in online orders since end February. Its average order has gone from Dh550 to Dh950.

Blame the COVID-19

The demand, as Rashad says, came all of a sudden, leaving online order-and-delivery companies to keep adding more personnel on the fly.

According to a top personnel at El Grocer, another UAE-based shopping platform, it always had extra team members available to handle more orders as and when they came in. But the rise in order volumes once the coronavirus fears became entrenched too everyone by surprise.

“We have been, and continue to add, more picking and delivery colleagues on a regular basis,” said Nader Amiri, founder of El Grocer. “This is both in our base dedicated fleet and new/expanded tie-ups with delivery service providers who give us the cars and motorbikes.”

Meet the surge

The demand gains show a clear pattern… as more businesses decided to allow remote working, more residents of the UAE found themselves spending more time at home. They also cut down on time spent outside of homes, which meant fewer trips for shopping.

Online then became the natural port of call for most of them - We analysed our data from March 1 to 10… and we have noticed roughly a 25-35 per cent increase in transactions and a smilar increase in value [basket size],” said Amiri. “In the last four days though, we are nearing a 70-90 per cent increase in transactions and another 30-40 per cent increase in average basket values [on top of the March 1-10 average increase].”

These are gains that could have taken months to achieve in normal – non-coronavirus – times.

Consumers who were averse to e-commerce earlier have now shifted to online shopping decisively. With some of the leading malls announcing reductions in their operating hours, the shift to online will accelerate. Once shoppers get hooked onto e-buying, it’s difficult to break it off once things return to a non-virus future.

Where shoppers are… investors follow

Even without the current gains, online grocery was touted as a high investment-grade category. Majid Al Futtaim Group picked up a sizeable stake in, the Saudi focused online portal, last year.

“Most investors in the region are very familiar with the huge potential of online grocery,” said Rashad. “This boost will simply highlight how quickly this potential is likely to be achieved by pure-play tech startups. “The current growth acceleration, coupled with strong execution, will generate favourable investor interest for our future funding rounds.”

BulkWhiz completed a “multi-million dollar” Series A round last year, while El Grocer raised a round last summer and will look at raising another in the coming six to nine months.

Not surprisingly, Amiri reckons that “The current conditions will help accelerate this momentum.”

Most investors in the region are very familiar with the huge potential of online grocery

- Amira Rashad of BulkWhiz

No hands policy

In keeping with the times, online vendors with delivery services emphasise the “contactless” part of an order fulfilment. These days, amdist the virus spread fears, that point resonates.

“We are about to launch our “Knock and Drop” initiative where users can order through the website and opt for a contactless delivery experience where the driver will knock or ring the doorbell and leave the bag on the doorstep,” said Mark Carroll, co-CEO of Kcal, the health food vendor.

Online delivery players such as Talabat and Deliveroo too are now into contactless delivery. “Customers are able to request through the app that their delivery is a “no contact”.”

Food Delivery guy 3
No need to head direct to the market... everything can be delivered. UAE shoppers take to online orders for their grocery and other daily needs. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Adapt and do it fast

On their part, delivery companies are making the switch to the new ways in buying patterns. While some of them are making do with existing fleets of delivery drivers, others are tying up with third-party providers to ramp up spare capacity.

Third-party logistics providers are seeing an increase in enquiries for storage and handling of cargo, primarily from healthcare products and food items.

“Our international freight volumes entail moving these items in bulk through charters during these times of increased restrictions on import and export,” said Deepak Khushalani, Managing Director at Premier Logistics.