Like most Pakistani millennials, I spend so much time glued to a computer screen (studying or working) that I lack the basic skills required to shop for quality food items at reasonable prices from the open market.
And because I'm not used to buying my fruits and veggies, keeping an eye out for quality while effectively bargaining can be a daunting task.
This is where MandiExpress seemed attractive, with its promise of bringing the virtual Sabzi Mandi to the comfort of my home.
The brainchild of Jehanzeb Chaudhri and Danyaal Balkhi, MandiExpress is an online solution for your grocery shopping needs. Their idea is to connect small-scale farmers to the consumers by eliminating middlemen, thereby maximising profits for farmers. They also promise that customers get fresh products delivered to their doorsteps.
An easy interface
The website itself features a sleek and modern design, with the colour scheme enhancing its aesthetic appeal.
The homepage features some of their products, discount codes and a list of best-selling products.
Navigation is seamless and responsive, with each selection loading within the same webpage, making the browsing experience faster.
The downside is that you can’t open multiple page tabs from the website. You will have to open the site again, each time in a new tab and navigate to the required section each time. It's too much work if you're looking to get the job done quickly.
A particularly eye-catching section on the left sidebar is ‘Popular Tags’ which lists some of the common uses of different products. Some of the listed tags here are ‘anaemia’, ‘anti-cancer’, ‘anti-dementia’, ‘anti-nausea’, among others. So if you are looking for foods that have a particular benefit, this section will take you to the relevant products.
The ordering and shipping guidelines, return policy, discount codes and other vital information is prominently displayed on the website, limiting ambiguity for new users.
The catalogue has a lot to offer
The catalogue is extensive and includes many items you won’t find at your local vendor.
The start-up offers the expected vegetables and fruits to its customers but also adds seafood, meat products, spices, sauces, pickles, juices, and specialised foods for health conscious consumers.
Surprisingly, it also offers an extensive range of dairy products.
The catalogue lists the name of vegetables, fruits, and meat products in English as well as in Urdu, eliminating the language barrier that still exists across most of the internet.
The fruit section too includes many fruits that are not commonly available at fruits stalls around the city, including pineapple, kiwis, avocados, blueberries and raspberries.
The service offers users two quality grades for most fruits. The normal quality and the Grade-A quality, which is also known as ‘Darja Awwal’ or ‘Aik Number’ in the open market.
For a slightly higher price, you can get the item conveniently delivered to your home, eliminating the chance of being deceived by a local vendor into paying a higher price.
Prices are competitive (minus seafood)
Most of the rates are likely to be the same as your local street vendor. But while there is little to no difference between the market and website rates for fruits and vegetables, the prices of seafood can be considerably higher than your local shops.
According to Chaudhri, the reason for this is that all seafood is procured from an exporter to ensure freshness and quality.
Upon surveying the meat market, I found the rates of beef, poultry and mutton to be just marginally higher than the local market, which is expected considering the clean, hygienic meat you get without having to stand at the local butcher.
Ordering is a breeze
The ease with which you can navigate the website and place your order sets MandiExpress apart from its competitors.
On the right sidebar, the shopping cart updates in real-time as you add or remove items without having to reload a new page each time. This makes the process of checkout quick and efficient. The order form at checkout also gives you the option to leave comments or special instructions for the rider.
Although the website informs users of a Rs30 delivery charge per order, it is currently waived for an unspecified time period as part of a 'promotional offer'.
One setback experienced was while trying to add or remove items from the basket. Sometimes the operation fails even when the Internet connection is working.
Delivery ups and downs
MandiExpress offers three time slots for delivery. You can have your items delivered between 8am to 11am, 12pm to 3.30pm, and 5.30pm to 9pm.
For delivery on a particular day, you are required to place your order before 2am. So if you want your product on 10 December at 11am, you can place your order latest by 2am on the same date. If you place your order at 3am, it will be delivered on 11 December.
The website offers returns within 48 hours of delivery for any non-meat products. For meat-based products that are unfit for consumption, you can inspect and return them at the time of delivery.
In order to test the quality of their products and service, we ordered several fresh items. Our shopping cart included the following items:
- Banana (Kela) (Grade A)
- Golden Apple Grade A
- Pea (Matar)
- Salad Leaves (Salad Patta)
- Spinach (Palak)
- Tomato (Tamator)
- Pieced Chicken (Boti)
In total, these seven items cost Rs837, which was reduced to Rs711.45 after applying a 15% discount code for first time users.
Since I reside in Gulistan-e-Johar, Karachi, I couldn’t get the items delivered to my home as it falls outside of MandiExpress’ delivery zone. This forced me to have the items delivered to a friend’s place. Currently, the company only offers delivery in four areas of Karachi: DHA, Clifton, KDA, and PECHS.
According to Mr Chaudhri, they have recently started delivering to Gulshan-e-Iqbal and North Nazimabad but have not made the announcement official as it remains in testing phase.
Products are impressive
Overall, I was impressed by the packaging and presentation of the delivered items. I should add, however, that I was disappointed by the lack of effort in packing the chicken. While the fruits and vegetables were securely sealed, the chicken was delivered in an unsealed plastic bag.
Most items were true to their description on the website, except for the bananas which didn’t have the appearance of a Grade-A product. Nevertheless, they were clean, fresh, and tasted great (not using the word 'fine', because they were super sweet and just the right texture). To my surprise, one of the apples turned out to be bad from the inside.
The vegetables were all neatly packed and fresh. Nothing was soggy, nor did any item appear stale. Overall, it was good to see the delivered items live up to the website's ambitious claims of freshness.
I will definitely be making use of the service on a regular basis as soon as they begin delivering in my area, provided that the company overcomes the few shortcomings I experienced.
If you are looking to get into online grocery shopping, MandiExpress seems like a safe bet. You may, at times, find some rates to be relatively higher, but they aren’t exorbitant. Additionally, the quality for the most part is pretty great.
Packing and presentation: 8/10
Overall user experience: 9/10
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