By Modnath Dhakal Kathmandu, Aug. 2: Suresh Regmi, a Computer Engineer, made a round of mobile phone shops last week in search of a mid-range set and found one after visiting at least two dozen outlets at Pako, New Road area. However, he had to compromise in terms of the brand and price. He wished to buy Xiaomi Note 8 but had to satisfy himself with Samsung M21. Regmi was lucky enough to find one. Nayak Paudel, a journalist, couldn't find a handset in Pathari bazar of Morang district. Many parents who were searching for laptops for their kids to attend online classes couldn't find one while some of them managed with second hand devices. The four-month lockdown has created the shortage of laptops and handheld devices in the Nepali market. The COVID-19 pandemic had severely affected the supply chain obstructing the manufacture and transportation of goods across the borders as well as in the domestic markets, warehouses and outlet shelves are bearing a deserted look. Many customers crowded in Tamrakar Complex, a major bazar in Pako, New Road, despite the threat of coronavirus pandemic had to return in disappointment. "It surely doesn't feel good when you have to return eight out of 10 customers saying that you don't have the product they want," said a salesman at the complex. Since the complex is one of the largest markets in the country for the mobile phones, people continue to throng in there as the last resort to find a device after being unable to get one elsewhere in the city. Likewise, the shelves of computer outlets in New Road and Putalisadak turned empty a couple of months after the lockdown and have never been filled up since then. People outside the Kathmandu Valley have been continuously making request to their relatives here to secure cell phones and laptops for them as they needed the devices for the online classes of their children. Trying time "It was a trying time. The demand went up abruptly, but we did not have enough stock of mobile phones. We couldn’t get the supply of mobile sets that were demanded even before the lockdown," said Paras Silwal, Marketing Manager of Xiaomi in Nepal. Xiaomi is the top brand in Nepal in terms of number of devices sold. Silwal said that the situation is likely to improve in the next couple of months as the mobile sets are due to arrive soon. Meanwhile, brands including Xiaomi, Oppo and Apple have launched new smart phones during the lockdown. A large amount of electronic devices are imported in Nepal from India and China. The shortage of laptops and mobile phones was caused by lockdown in China and India. The manufacturing was affected due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China in January. While the northern neighbour gradually opened up speeding up the production and supply of goods, Nepal announced lockdown on 24 March which broke the supply chain almost for six months. "The lockdown in China and then in Nepal and India had affected the import and supply of goods since the industry and transportation were thrown out of gear by the closure and various health safety obstruction," said Nawaraj Kunwar, President of CAN Federation, the umbrella organisation of computer businesses and information technology institutions in the country. While there was no or scanty supply of cell phones and computers in the market, the demand had grown significantly due to the online classes of the students and work-from-home modality. Pawan Bhimsaria, Managing Director of Gennext, distributor of Apple, Dell and HP, said that the supply of mobiles and computers was occasional and the imported goods would reach Kathmandu after about three weeks of its departure from the supplier in the foreign country. Since the aeroplanes made transit at multiple locations and had to undergo strict health measures, we received the goods after 22 days, he said. Demands surge According to Kunwar, the demand for computers had gone as high as 40 per cent after the enforcement of lockdown as both the government and private jobs shifted from office space to home, and students from primary to university level had to attend the online classes. Many parents were forced to purchase additional computers and handheld devices in order to facilitate their children in their online classes while laptops became the most sought-after products as a tool for work-from-home. So did the internet connection and routers. However, Prakash Subedi, Brand Manager at Vivo in Nepal, said that the situation was not as grave as projected in the media. "But we have issues with the logistics," he said.
Bhimsaria said that the production plants at many locations were shut and the supply is not likely to resume anytime soon. "Large brands like Apple, Dell and HP don't maintain stock of their products which means when they shut down the plants due to the coronavirus, they didn't have much stock for future," he said. Prices rise The price of mobile phones and laptops has gone up given the industry shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, and increased cost of transportation as the manufacturers and importers had to adhere to complex health safety measures. Subedi said that the transportation cost had increased by three-fold which created pressure on the price of the products in the retail market. Some retailers charged as high as 25 per cent additional price for the mobile sets due to short supply. But most of the brands that The Rising Nepal talked to maintained that they did not levy additional charge to subsidise the increased transportation cost and sold the devices at the maximum retail price even though their profits dropped.