The panic buying saga

17 April 2020 09:44 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}




At the onset of the indefinite curfew period, people around the island got into  panic mode. They feared that they will run out of food, which is a valid fear at a time of crisis. Although the government promised that there would be lorries travelling to each township with essential items packages, this mechanism did not succeed in all parts of the country. Leading supermarket chains  started online deliveries and one-time delivery shops  mushroomed on social media, even promising to deliver non-essential items to your doorstep. 

Supplying at their convenience?

Although people in several areas expected the government-sponsored mechanism to reach their doorsteps, there are some living in the outskirts of Colombo who says they haven’t received anything to date. This is the plight of 30-40 low income families living in Moragahahena. “There are vehicles coming with vegetables and other items but we can’t afford to buy them,” said Nirupa, a resident in the area. “Even the local temple hasn’t been supportive enough." The grama sevaka, she alleged,  handed over some packages to a few families that can afford to buy essential items. "But we are still awaiting a lorry to come and save us. There are families with newborn children, elderly that are in a terrible situation. We urge someone to think about us and all people in low income families.” 

Websites that 
never work 

Leading supermarket chains have already opened their websites for deliveries. It then came to a point when they started accepting limited orders per day. Thereafter they gave a time for people to login and promised that goods will be delivered within 48 hours. Some customers who have made their purchases haven’t received a confirmation that their order has been accepted. Getting through was next to impossible. Some of them now, however, seem to have got things up and going. 

Troubling online payments 

There are some who have never done online banking in their life. And others who seldom do online transactions. Therefore, payments have become a messy affair. Many delivery spaces only accept online payments and therefore you need to count on your luck if you want to complete an online transaction, it seems.  But people are in a situation where they may have already run out of money in their pockets after purchasing items in bulk. The other option is to keep visiting the nearest bank/ ATM to withdraw money at your convenience.


While some people are struggling to buy essential items to their households, a few are already missing the pancakes, ice creams and lamprais they had before the curfew was imposed. With the growing demand, several private businesses promising to offer everything from chocolates to ice coffee etc. have mushroomed on social media. While some of them have genuinely fulfilled their promise, a few scammers have also disappointed customers. 


Exorbitant delivery charges 

It is understood that everybody is facing this crisis situation in the best possible way. Due to the indefinite curfew periods certain supermarket chains and delivery spaces had to reduce their staff. Therefore those who go to deliver items are at the receiving end of immense amount of pressure, both from their employer as well as from customers in certain instances. Therefore, probably in an attempt to remunerate their service, certain businesses have delivery charges going up to Rs. 500 to any given area, even if the location is in close proximity to the outlet delivering items. 

Medicine and baby products 

The government in collaboration with the Postal Services Department started a mechanism where people will get their medicines to the doorstep. Although it commenced islandwide, people continue to queue up outside pharmacies to get their medicine. Several other alleged scammers too were exposed on social media where one of their delivery charges were higher than the cost of the medicine that were purchased. Certain healthcare spaces also sell overpriced surgical masks with the growing demand. Those looking for baby products too were in a difficult situation but several known brands have started their services. But what about people in rural areas?

A supplier’s story 

“At Saaraketha we have been delivering to our customers from the beginning, but the sheer volume of demand that we received virtually overnight was not something that even our years of experience could have prepared us for,”opined Prasanna Hettiarachchi, Founder, Saaraketha Organics. “We went from processing around 50 orders a day to an instant backlog of more than 1500 orders in two days. To add to this, the curfew restrictions meant that our usual processing team reduced from 40 to 15, and our office had to remain closed, depriving us of our finance team and sales team. We had to scramble to work out new ways of working, new processes, and there was no time to test and verify anything, as the delays and the complaints mounted up.”

“It has been a very difficult week, because we have felt every single customers need to eat as our own,” he added. “The panic buying at this scale was not something that we could have ever foreseen. Balancing the recruiting of out sourced new staff, who we have never met, training them, working out the kinks, all the while processing orders and trying to deliver as many orders as possible has been the most daunting task of our lives. This period has shown us both ends of the human spectrum. From the way that communities and people have come together to find solutions, to put their own needs aside to work towards the greater good has been so inspiring. And we are so happy to have played our small part in that. At the same time we have seen how myopic and incredibly selfish people can also be. From our deliveries being stolen by some customers, to the harassment of our drivers to the unimaginable demands that have been made of our team, we have been quite taken aback."

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