In an ongoing interview series, the leaders of Nielsen’s global field teams provide insights and observations on what they’re witnessing as they conduct their store audit work under the difficult conditions the COVID-19 outbreak has created.
Murtaza Ahmed Khan is head of field operations in Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula
During the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Nielsen’s field teams operating across Pakistan quickly observed wide-ranging price gouging. Khan said there were instances where outlets were selling high-demand items, particularly in traditional trade settings, for twice their normal retail price. He said efforts were made by local authorities to control pricing, but with limited success.
Pakistan, with a population of more than 200 million people, confirmed its first COVID-19 case in February, but it had not reported any fatalities (as of March 13). It has closed its border with neighboring Iran, one of the worst-hit countries by the virus. Officials there have reported more than 11,000 infected with the virus and more than 500 deaths.
Other categories are being affected by the closure of borders. For example, Khan said the price of cigarettes has risen by approximately 15%, as supplies of black-market cigarettes, often smuggled in from neighboring Afghanistan, have been cut off by border closures.
Some of Khan’s observations:
- Sales during the Ramadan religious period, beginning in late April and running until late May, will likely be heavily impacted. It’s a time when sales often break records, particularly on food items as friends and families break their fasts each day. But with rising concerns that Pakistan may see a rise in infections beyond its comparatively low early levels, people may not be able to get out to make fresh food purchases.
- People are discussing the reliance on fuel supplies from Iran and how that reliance could lead to fuel shortages with the closure of the border. That could affect manufacturers’ ability to distribute products across the country. Clients will be monitoring this.
- Comparatively low levels of internet connectivity are limiting the ability to distribute health messages in some countries, but awareness is good, as the government has pushed hard to convey health messages through mass media outlets.
- People are using social media to spread messages on how to make your own medical masks as supplies run out.
- Retailers may offer more multipack sales, which is unusual for much of Pakistan.
- Hand sanitizers are typically a luxury item in Pakistan, but they’re now in short supply. As a result, “bootleg” products of lower quality are turning up to meet demand.