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Meena Bazar brings grocery to customers’ doorstep

mmmMeena Bazar, one of the largest supermarket chains in Bangladesh, is looking to make its online supermarket as popular as its brick-and-mortar ones, as the country warms to the idea of purchasing groceries off the internet.

“Recently, we have noticed that the urban people are more focused on saving time, which led us to re-launch the home delivery service,” Shaheen Khan, chief operating officer of Meena Bazar, told The Daily Star in an interview last week.

Customers can now place grocery orders at www.meenabazar.com.bd and within two to three hours, the items would be at their doorsteps.

“We want to give people a little relief from their increasingly hectic lives and the sapping traffic jams nowadays. We have already got good response — our home delivery is the quickest in town.”

The chain provides free home delivery for purchases above Tk 3,500; a Tk 100 delivery charge is applicable to purchases below the sum. Payment can be made while placing the order online or upon delivery.

The online operation covers the whole of Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna cities, the three cities where the subsidiary of Gemcon Food & Agricultural Products Ltd now has operations.

The company is also developing a mobile application so that customers can place orders from their smartphones or tablets.

Khan said the elderly generation still prefers to shop for grocery at the chaotic kitchen markets over the neat and clean supermarkets.

“But the present generation is different. They like the supermarkets as they are convenient, time-saving and ensure good-quality groceries. We want to cater to this new generation of customers to the best of our abilities.”

About the common perception that supermarkets charge more than traditional kitchen markets, he said: “The perception is baseless. At Meena Bazar, I can guarantee that nobody in the city can offer the price we are offering in case of vegetables and beef.”

The reason being, the company sources many of its agro products directly from farmers and producers, thus cutting middlemen and ensuring quality.

Khan said there are some policy issues due to which customers have to pay a little more than in the traditional markets.

“Supermarket chains have to pay 2 percent VAT, but it is not applicable for open kitchen markets. It is a huge turn-off for the customers, as they pay higher prices. There should be a level playing field.”

The 65 percent import duties on equipment needed to set up supermarkets is a barrier to the growth of the sector, he said.

“The duty should be nominal for the growth of the industry, as we are not being able to expand our business as fast as we aspire to, despite the huge demand from customers.” “If we can expand our business, the volume of our sales will go up, which means more revenue for the government.”

Khan, who worked for two leading hotel brands in the US for a decade before taking up the position at Meena Bazar in 2009, said the supermarket chains are also victims of unexpected raids by multiple government departments in the name of food safety.

“The frequent visits by multiple government agencies and their media coverage create a negative perception about supermarket chains. But we are the ones who maintain food safety and quality standards. We are not against the food safety drive, but it should be coordinated.”

Khan said the supermarket chain is serious about handling customer grievances apart from ensuring the quality of products.

“We strongly believe that a happy customer can bring three customers for you, but an unhappy customer can take away nine customers from you.”

Established in 2002, Meena Bazar now runs 18 outlets in three divisional cities and plans to open stores in four new divisional cities and district towns. “But it all depends on how quickly the barriers are removed.”

Under Khan’s stewardship, Meena Bazar has opened 12 stores in the last five years and has grown four-fold.

“Our plan is to take the number of stores to 50 in the next three years,” he said, while declining to give any turnover figures.

The supermarket chain also introduced club cards, which return Tk 1 to the card-holders for every Tk 100 purchase as part of its consumer award programme. It has now more than 20,000 cardholders.

Report: Md Fazlur Rahman
Source: Daily Star

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