The proxy shopping model, referred to colloquially as "di cho ho" seems to have created more problems than solutions, with people unable to get what they need in time and volunteers finding it difficult to meet a plethora of requests sent throughout the day and night.
Last weekend, HCMC ordered districts to form task groups to do the groceries shopping for residents who are required to "stay where they are" as the city tries to bring a raging pandemic under control.
The task groups of Binh Trung Dong Ward in Thu Duc City, for instance, have been struggling to meet residents’ demand. Their volunteers have been overloaded with text messages from 100 households sending and updating their shopping lists.
One volunteer said she received messages on the Zalo app late in the night and had to keep an eye on the phone all the time to ensure no orders are missed.
The volunteers take the orders to retail outlets, purchase the goods and take it to each household. They receive payment via bank transfer.
In other wards, the procedure is itself a hassle, complain residents who have to fill in paper forms, take a picture and send it to the volunteers.
The inflexibility in the new rules is also an irritant for several residents.
Quan, who lives in Ward 6, District 8, said that before the proxy shopping model was imposed, he and other residents could place online orders with a local VinMart+ store. The goods were later delivered by a building security guard.
Now, local authorities only allow residents in Quan’s building to shop on certain days, depending on the floor they live on.
"Everything was fine before the new rigid orders came," he said.
Trung of Ward 2, Phu Nhuan District, said that he and his neighbors are only allowed to shop for one combination of chicken, pork, eggs, water spinach and cabbage.
"It is boring to eat only the things for two weeks."
He added that his ward only accepts cash payment, which he fears would increase the risks of contagion.
In Ward 1, District 4, Hoang went to a pharmacy right next to his apartment building, but the seller asked him to go back and order through the proxy shopping model.
"How can people wait one or two days for their urgent medicines?" asked a frustrated Hoang.
Some residents reported that in the last three days they had not seen a single volunteer or official coming to collect their orders even though they were almost out of food.
Frustrating for volunteers, too
The new arrangement has also proved irksome for many volunteers.
On their third day of shopping on behalf of others, An and Khuyen find it a bother that they have to keep telling the residents that the items they ordered are not in stock.
Then there are demanding residents for whom they have to shop again and again to select items of the best quality.
A volunteer (L) waits to receive payment via bank transfer after delivering groceries. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dat
Sellers at retail outlets, meanwhile, say they are unable to ensure all orders will be fulfilled as there are still blockages in transport that lead to shortages.
A VinMart+ salesperson said that items that have been confirmed the previous day can still be out of stock when the volunteers arrive.
A spokesperson for VinCommerce, which operates VinMart supermarkets and VinMart+ minimarts, said that many trucks have been unable to reach the outlet stores because officials at checkpoints deny them permission on the grounds that they are not transporting essential goods.
Volunteers also face rejections when they deliver ordered goods.
On August 23, An received a request from a father whose child was having a severe stomachache. She had to visit many different pharmacies to get the specific medicine that the father wanted, only to receive a phone call from him later saying that he had already got it.
One task group has not been able to get one resident to pay for VND400,000 worth of groceries he ordered. The resident said he only wanted to "give it a try to see if the model works" and did not really want the goods.
Volunteers say that each order is typically worth VND500,000 to VND700,000 and they have to pay upfront before being reimbursed by bank transfer upon delivery.
There were over 74,000 households in HCMC that had registered to be part of the proxy shopping model on August 24, triple that of the day before, according to the city’s department of industry and trade.
It said 70,300 of the orders were fulfilled that day, while the rest would be completed the next day.
HCMC has recorded more than 194,100 Covid-19 cases since the end of April.
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