Alibaba’s Lazada briefly stops delivering groceries in Singapore

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s government urged residents to consider ordering their groceries online rather than going to the shops. That just became tougher.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Lazada Group SA is temporarily suspending its grocery delivery service in Singapore as the country’s strict physical distancing measures amid rising coronavirus cases have triggered orders to soar.

RedMart, Lazada’s online grocer unit, will not take new orders until it resumes its services on April 4, the company said in a notice to customers on Thursday. RedMart will use this time to make changes to the range of products available and prioritise daily essentials such as rice, flour and eggs, it said.

Lazada’s RedMart and other grocery delivery services such as Inc’s Prime Now have been kept busy amid harrowing economic times in Singapore.

These companies have been trying to cope with surging demand as about 5.7 million people in the densely populated island increasingly turn to online grocery shopping, part of Singapore’s S$7.5 billion grocery market estimated by Euromonitor.

“These companies now have to deal with a new situation where demand for essential items outpaces operational capacities,” said Yinglan Tan, founding managing partner of Insignia Ventures. “Players that manage shorter supply chain may be more equipped to handle the stress.”

While the number of coronavirus cases has mounted to 1,000, the city-state has refrained from ordering a full lockdown of daily life and business, preferring to implement an ever-more-stringent set of rules and guidelines to restrain activity and curb the spread. Among the new cases was an employee working at a branch of a local supermarket chain.

And while lockdowns in neighbouring Malaysia may have disrupted food supply into Singapore, government officials have assured the nation it won’t run out of food or basic necessities.

Singapore’s government has taken to its official WhatsApp channel to advise the public to order groceries online instead of venturing out, while also pushing more companies to make staff work from home. To help address a shortage of delivery slots, taxi and ride-hailing drivers are now allowed to make food and grocery deliveries.

Separately, the city-state said Thursday it’ll support 90% of the cost for local retailers going online in order to help them diversify their sales channels beyond traditional brick-and-mortar.