March 17, 2020 / 3:29 PM / 21 days ago

Gulf retailers offer butler service, hygiene checks to ease coronavirus fears

RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) - “Stay in, stay safe and we’ll get you what you need” - delivery app Toters’ message is among marketing campaigns flooding social media in the Gulf Arab region as governments restrict movement and urge social distancing over coronavirus fears.

Delivery men wear protective face masks, following the outbreak of coronavirus, as they deliver food for customers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

Many online retailers and delivery apps are stressing their commitment to hygiene, including checking drivers’ temperatures and supplying them with gloves and hand sanitizer, to reassure clients concerned about the spread of the virus.

“We have a campaign jumping on the trend ‘khaleek fil beit’ (stay at home), encouraging people to stay home by giving them the ability to order anything via a butler service,” Toters’ Saudi Arabia General Manager Rita Kerbaj told Reuters.

She said people are ordering everything from groceries and pharmaceuticals to masks, sanitizers and Starbucks coffee.

Competitor HungerStation has offered delivery discounts and asked customers to pay online. Food delivery start-up Zomato said it was launching “contactless delivery” for customers.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have ordered the closure of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and other public spaces to combat the virus. More than 1,000 infections and one death have been reported in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

In regional tourism and business hub the United Arab Emirates, restaurants remain open but there has been a rush on supermarkets. Bars and lounges were ordered to shut.

UAE-based developer and shopping mall operator Majid Al Futtaim MAAFUM.UL has seen a 32% increase in transactions in its Carrefour online business in the first half of March, compared to the same period in February, according to a company statement to Reuters.

Order sizes have increased, particularly for cleaning products, healthy food and electronics, and six new “fulfilment centres” had opened across the Middle East in March to meet growing demand, the company said.

Dubai-based Careem — which is owned by Uber (UBER.N) — is talking to authorities in its countries of operation about how its divisions can help.

Adeeb Warsi, managing director of its on-demand delivery unit Careen NOW, said there had been an uptick in non-food orders in recent days. “The way things are unfolding, we are working with different government entities ... and particular merchants and partners to be able to give options to our customers for basic daily essentials,” he said.

Al Rajhi Capital said in a recent report that food retailers are likely to earn higher revenues, but others offering products like electronics and home goods may be hit due to supply chain issues and record “flattish to negative growth” in coming quarters.

Jarir Marketing 4190.SE, Saudi Arabia’s largest listed retailer, said the closure of 14 of its 50 stores across the kingdom could cause sales to decline by around 25% in the second quarter if the government extends shutdowns beyond two weeks.

“We have a very good online platform but even if we grew it 300%, it would not make up for the expected impact if stores remain closed,” chairman Muhammad al-Agil told Reuters.

(This story has been refiled to change attribution to company statement, not spokesman, in graphs 8 and 9)

Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Ed Osmond

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