’Online Markets’, the Last Bastion for Purchases in Cuba, Are Also Empty

Searching the Supermarket Treew site for “eggs” finds a plastic holder to carry them but no actual eggs.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 April 2019 — The shortages have reached the online stores, which were until now the only place where you could get products missing from the stores of the island. Online sales portals such as Supermarket TreewShipments to Cuba or the Carlos III shop, work from merchandise stored in Cuba but have their own inventories of physical items.

These online stores sell everything from food and cleaning supplies to furniture and appliances, but they have no avoided the shortages experienced by the island’s markets. Until recently, these portals had a priority supply and were able to provide products that had disappeared from local markets.

“I ordered a box of chicken quarters and they told me that they would deliver it to my family in San Miguel del Padrón, Havana, in seven days, but 12 days later, nothing,” explains Marianela, 38. A Cubans living in Tamoa, she frequently uses these shopping services through the web.

Another client complained about having received an email after purchasing a mixed food package, with pork, vegetable oil and chicken for his family in Santiago de Cuba. “I paid online, they deducted the money from the card but two days later they wrote me saying they could not guarantee the quality of the merchandise and that therefore it would be longer than agreed,” he tells this newspaper.

“The payment I made includes a fee to deliver the food to my mother’s door, she is a very old person,” he explains. “Initially she was going to receive the purchase between 10 and 21 days because she does not live in the capital but in the city of Matanzas, but she has been waiting for a month and has not received even a chicken thigh,” he complains.

In recent weeks the official media have published several articles on the problem of shortages that affect the national stores, a situation attributed to the “economic stress” that is affecting the whole country and the problem of liquidity in the state coffers. However, they have not commented on these online markets.

“Up until now we had been a prioritized sector because it is real money that arrives in this way, not colored paper like convertible pesos,” a messenger from the 3rd and 70th store in Havana tells this newspaper It also offers online purchases to be paid with a credit card and focuses on emigrants with family on the island.

“The warehouses have always stored the products that are already reserved online but the problem is that right now everything is empty, especially the butcher shop,” he says. “What we have is not the kind of food that is sold online. What we have are very low quality things like sausages, turkey hash and hamburgers, but we do not have the boxes of chicken quarters or breasts that sold very well in the digital sites.”

Now, some customers based abroad spend hours in front of their computer screen to “catch” the few offers of these foods that appear for online sale. “I filled the shopping cart of the page and in the few minutes that passed until I went to pay I got a sign saying that one of the products I had added was not for sale,” says Maria, a Supermarket Treew customer.

“When I realized what was happening I got very early the next day and I kept putting the word ’chicken’ in the search engine until they supplied the product.” But , she added, “I have to go to work and I can not spend all that time with my finger on the mouse waiting for food to show up, and that brings me very bad memories of the lines I used to stand in before I left Cuba.”

Recently, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged the problems with the supply of basic necessities such as chicken, eggs, bread and cooking oil. The president called for “closing the productive cycles,” and criticized the inefficiencies in “contracting transport or delaying shipments” that delays the arrival of imports to markets.

Managers of the state corporation Cimex, in charge of the management of many of the hard currency stores that operate on the island, attributed the high cost to the tense financial situation of the whole country and confirmed that. with regards to chicken, only  “40% of the normal demand of the network,” had been delivered.

“What has happened is a mixture of problems,” says an administrative employee at the Carlos III store, on condition of anonymity. “To the extent that products such as chicken have begun to be lacking, many customers have asked their relatives abroad to guarantee their food by buying it online, even though it is more expensive because of the cost of home delivery.”

The worker addes that this practice is also the resource of many paladares (private restaurants) who have to guarantee certain products to keep their menu well stocked. “We started receiving more online requests than usual, a jump in demand that exhausted our stocks,” he explains.

“We are selling little by little because we can not guarantee that when the customer clicks on the product over there we will have something to deliver here,” he concludes. A few yards away from the warehouse where a lot of merchandise was previously stored for online sale, the shelves for customers who arrive physically are also almost empty.


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