How Covid-19 changed the way we shop | Sunday Observer

How Covid-19 changed the way we shop

30 August, 2020

The world had various types of shoppers. The shopaholics, the last minute shoppers, the weekly ones and the monthly hoarders, the thrifty ones who look to save every penny and the tech-savvy online shopper. However, when Covid-19 struck, we were all compelled to become the last one.

Although Sri Lanka has had e-commerce platforms around for a few years now it was a select few who patronised and really knew how to avail of the best benefits out of being able to shop with your fingertips. Not being able to step out of your house though made all the difference and most of us had to learn and rely heavily on essentials being delivered to us through these online websites.

To be quite honest, I was a sceptic pre-Covid, specifically with having to provide my debit card and other personal details. I am also one of those old fashioned people who need not only to see but touch and feel to make my purchases. Couldn’t do any of that though earlier this year.

So getting down to my humble consumer analysis, I was like many others compelled to look for some method to ensure that my family was fed during the lockdown. When immediate curfew was declared my first option was to go with the big names and the need of the hour of course was groceries. So the large supermarket chains, it was.

But that was a horrific experience to say the least. With such a high demand most supermarket chains just couldn’t keep up. On any other day it would have actually been funny to have people set their alarms for 5 a.m., make their coffee and sit by a PC to try and win the ‘lottery’ of being one of the lucky ones to be within the ‘quota’ for the closest outlet. Even if you managed to get in, chances were that the choices of items were limited and you had to make do with the bare minimum. Unfortunately for me, my closest outlet was constantly over quota and 6:01am was just too late!

Most supermarket chains also provided customers with a list of phone numbers to call and place orders. One chain had a process of calling and obtaining a WhatsApp number and order ID to which you then sent in a hand-written grocery list with relevant details. After trying 159 times (I have the call log to prove it!), I got through and sent my order in.This was my first lockdown grocery shopping success story. My order was promptly delivered within 24 hours by two young women driving a mini truck and unloading goods by themselves (All hail girl power!). A few of the items were replaced with different brands but overall this was a win for me.

Soon though other smaller establishments and even the local kadey uncles were issued curfew passes and delivery of goods became essential services overnight.

Simultaneously, a genius of a person created a Facebook group for all sorts of requirements from groceries to meat and fish, medicines, gas, toiletries, baby items and a host of other stuff. This was such a lifesaver and the minute you posted your requirement, information was shared faster than lightning and people did what they did best in times of crisis, they responded to each other’s needs.

Fruits and vegetables

Here I found some start-up vendors who really delivered quality, quantity and efficiency where the bigger names in e-commerce failed. While some were overcharging and others were not even delivering orders, these small players stuck to basics and won the hearts of many.

Of all the fruit and vegetable vendors that found through the Facebook group, a woman in our neighbourhood, Tammy Vithana did a brilliant and affordable job with vegetable packs that were fresh, hygienically packed and delivered on time. For our fruit needs again it was an individual vendor under the name, Colombo Fruits and Vegetable Centre that came through. Both women operated via WhatsApp, sending in a list of available goods and accepted bank transfers as payment.

From among the little more advanced vendors and for added choice and convenience we found Celeste Daily to have the best range of fruits, vegetables and herbs via the PickMe and Uber apps. We also liked them for their sustainable packaging and the availability of goods that was not so easily accessible elsewhere.


With fresh and processed meat we needed to be extra careful with whom we ordered from so after a thorough search we found the most reliable. Again operating via WhatsApp flyers, these guys also added eggs and fresh milk to their repertoire and made prompt deliveries accepting bank transfers as well, making life so much easier.

Bread became such a luxury with no ‘ChoonPaan’ uncles visiting and Finagle was our go to place during lockdown. Although you needed to buy in bulk we worked out requirements with our neighbours and ordered together so we saved time and money.

Other groceries and came up with an app and website respectively that moved away from their regular items and added essentials so as to cater to a wider customer base.

This worked great for us and the only qualm was that delivery areas and days were limited. But we could like a few days.


Although the order did get a few days late the children needed their snacks and one brand in particular had great affordable chocolate and nibbles packed together and sent over.

Baby items

Having a six-month-old at home meant the essentials list included lots of stuff that regular groceries would not stock. came through for us on this front with baby food, diapers and other essentials well stocked and delivered to your doorstep.

There were others delivering all sorts of things during the lockdown and from the looks of it the process of online buying is something people have not become a lot more familiar with. The vendors themselves are making our lives easier with new additions such as Celeste which have launched their own website which delivers to Colombo and the suburbs within a couple of hours and others who have expanded their delivery areas and made payments online more streamlined.

Overall buying habits have certainly changed. Although I still prefer to go back to my local supermarket and see, touch and feel before purchasing, I also feel more comfortable ordering online and feeling reassured that local start-ups in the e-commerce arena are really in it to make a difference in the way we shop.